5 Poems for These Days of Uncertainty

On Wednesday, July 17, U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar responded to yet another Presidential twitter attack with the compelling poetic images from one of the country’s greatest poets, Maya Angelou.

“You may write me down in history / With your bitter, twisted lies / You may trod me in the very dirt / But still, like dust, I’ll rise.”

For the next several days, Still I Rise became the most searched for poem on the Internet. Instead of the vitriol utilized by the President, Representative Omar had given the American public words of hope and empowerment. Angelou’s poetic voice had touched the minds and imaginations of millions of people. Poetry that shows us it is possible to move forward with grace and away from the political hatreds that define our days.

Like all bibliophiles, I wanted more poetry that describes the anguish and anxieties of this summer.  I was affected by the wisdom of Joy Harjo with her advice on engaging with the enemy; by the realism of Langston Hughes and the inclusion we need to fight for; Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s rousing call to America to examine and change; and Emily Dickinson’s reminders that we all carry the griefs of daily living.

“This Morning I Pray for My Enemies” by Joy Harjo

And whom do I call my enemy?
An enemy must be worthy of engagement.
I turn in the direction of the sun and keep walking.
It’s the heart that asks the questions, and not my furious mind.
The heart is the smaller cousin of the sun.
It sees and knows everything.
It hears the gnashing even as it hears the blessing.
The door to the mind should only open from the heart.
An enemy who gets in, risks the danger of becoming a friend.

“I Am Waiting” by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

I am waiting for my case to come up

and I am waiting
for a rebirth of wonder
and I am waiting for someone
to really discover America
and wail
and I am waiting
for the discovery
of a new symbolic western frontier
and I am waiting
for the American Eagle
to really spread its wings
and straighten up and fly right
and I am waiting
for the war to be fought
which will make the world safe
for anarchy
and I am waiting
for the final withering away
of all governments
and I am perpetually awaiting
a rebirth of wonder

I am waiting for the Great Divide to be crossed
and I am anxiously waiting
for the secret of eternal life to be discovered
by an obscure general practitioner
and I am waiting
to set sail for happiness
and I am waiting
for a reconstructed Mayflower
to reach America
with its picture story and tv rights
sold in advance to the natives
and I am waiting
for the lost music to sound again
in the Lost Continent
in a new rebirth of wonder

“I look at the world” by Langston Hughes

I look at the world
From awakening eyes in a black face—
And this is what I see:
This fenced-off narrow space
Assigned to me.

I look then at the silly walls
Through dark eyes in a dark face—
And this is what I know:
That all these walls oppression builds
Will have to go!

I look at my own body
With eyes no longer blind—
And I see that my own hands can make
The world that’s in my mind.
Then let us hurry, comrades,
The road to find.

“I measure every Grief I meet” by Emily Dickinson

I measure every Grief I meet
With narrow, probing, eyes—
I wonder if It weighs like Mine—
Or has an Easier size.

I wonder if They bore it long—
Or did it just begin—
I could not tell the Date of Mine—
It feels so old a pain—

I wonder if it hurts to live—
And if They have to try —
And whether—could They choose between—
It would not be—to die—

I note that Some—gone patient long—
At length, renew their smile—
An imitation of a Light
That has so little Oil—

“Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes spring high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

Sign up to receive Check Your Shelf, the Librarian's One-Stop Shop For News, Book Lists, And More.
By signing up you agree to our Terms of Service