Maya Angelou

The first stalker I had was the most stubborn. He was persistent, calling at all times of the day and night, progressively getting angrier, appearing in places he had no reason to be. Having never had a stalker before, although I’d admittedly called my first boyfriend a few times too many that one summer he seemed too busy for me, I wasn’t entirely sure what to do.

When I was young, I used to
Watch behind the curtains
As men walked up and down the street. Wino men, old men.
Young men sharp as mustard.
See them. Men are always
Going somewhere. 

I called the police. I’m still a little ashamed that I couldn’t handle it. After all, I had given him my phone number. Hadn’t I extended the hope of another meeting? The police didn’t see it the way I did. Where I saw a promise, they saw an invasion of privacy. His phone number was blocked and they must have had a chat because I stopped seeing him everywhere. I count myself lucky I didn’t need to do more. Though I shouldn’t have had to anyway.

They knew I was there. Fifteen
Years old and starving for them.
Under my window, they would pauses,
Their shoulders high like the
Breasts of a young girl,
Jacket tails slapping over
Those behinds,
Men.

It was the second one that startled me. What did our mothers say? Don’t go with strangers. Don’t take candy. And so how did I find myself silent at a bus stop in front of a police station while a strange man (I had gone with him, I had let him buy me coffee) wove his hand into the hair at the nape of my neck and told me to get on the bus with him? This time I didn’t give my phone number and I didn’t get on the bus but there he was, weeks and months later on street corners staring, too close by half. Eventually he lost interest, but for a year I didn’t walk alone, didn’t stay outside long, didn’t take a bus.

One day they hold you in the
Palms of their hands, gentle, as if you
Were the last raw egg in the world. Then
They tighten up. Just a little. The
First squeeze is nice. A quick hug.
Soft into your defenselessness. A little
More. The hurt begins. Wrench out a
Smile that slides around the fear.

I know more about myself now. I try to make eye contact with every stranger on the street (so I can identify you later, should something go…wrong). I am more responsible with myself, even as I tangle with the early lessons of agency and consent for my daughter. If spend too much time hugging her and missing her baby smoothness she shouts stop loving my body! and I know I’m doing my job.

When the
Air disappears,
Your mind pops, exploding fiercely, briefly,
Like the head of a kitchen match. Shattered.
It is your juice
That runs down their legs. Staining their shoes.
When the earth rights itself again,
And taste tries to return to the tongue,
Your body has slammed shut. Forever.
No keys exist.

I saw Maya Angelou, who wrote this poem*, sometime after the second stalker, halfway up the bleachers in a gym that smelled of the season’s early departure from the playoffs. She stood on a small box with a mic and she read Phenomenal Woman while my heart broke open. I was deeply in love with my first girlfriend who always sought consent and was beautiful and electric and impossible to catch. Even at the beginning she fluttered in and out of my fingers. Listening to each poem I fell more in love (with my girlfriend, with myself, with Maya Angelou) and regained some of what I’d given away.

Then the window draws full upon
Your mind. There, just beyond
The sway of curtains, men walk.
Knowing something.
Going someplace.
But this time, I will simply
Stand and watch. 

Maybe.

While my favorite poet (do you have one of these? will you tell me who it is?) remains Sandra Cisneros (have you read “You Like To Give and Watch Me My Pleasure”?) the one who made the biggest impact, the rock in the puddle, was Maya Angelou. I’m no longer a poet. I can’t weave words. But the ripples from that rock are still pooling. I will miss her voice and I’m so glad she left us her words.

 

*Poem Men, breaks mine.

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9 Responses

  1. Gorgeous Meredith. I defy your claim that you are no longer a poet.

  2. You are a poet through and through! Thank you for sharing this moving post. I am touched by your words and your story.

    Poets… I am fickle and I love beautiful words but two remain constant in my heart. Mary Oliver and Pablo Neruda both have lots of personal significance for me. They hold my deepest regrets in their lines and also all of my hope.

  3. Love this. Nikki Giovanni is mine.

  4. I am constitutionally incapable of picking a favorite poet, but Elizabeth Bishop has dwelt close to my heart since I first read her in college. If you’ve not encountered her “Questions of Travel” (of course you have, but just in case…), here, I offer this as a gift: http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/questions-of-travel/

  5. I love this post so much, I can’t even tell you.
    Your voice is amazing and reading this…was reading poetry.

  6. What a gorgeous post. Beautiful thing to read first thing in the morning.

    Favourite poet? Another vote for Elizabeth Bishop. No matter whom I encounter it always flows back to her and One Art.

  7. I love this.

  8. i love it thank you for sharing

  9. You may not identify as a poet but you DO have a way with words. I love reading your posts.

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