by Debra B. Hori

Here are words,
words I found
this August morning,
words that tell
how my heroine,
poet, inspiration,
how she found
her voice:

Mrs. Flowers,
a lady in my town,
a black lady,
had started me
to reading
when I was about eight.
When I was about eleven
and a half,
she said to me
one day,
“Do you love poetry?”
I never spoke.
I used to carry
a tablet
around on which
I wrote answers.
She asked me,
“Do you love poetry?”
I wrote, “Yes.”
She told me,
“You do not love poetry.
You will never love it until
you speak it.
Until it comes across your tongue,
through your teeth,
over your lips,
you will never love poetry.”
And I ran out of her house.
I thought:
I’ll never go back there again.
She was trying to take my friend.
I’d run away,
and every time she’d see me
she would just threaten
to take my friend.
Finally, I did take a book,
a book of poetry,
and I went
under the house,
and I tried
to speak,
and I could.

Now I say,
Thank you,
Thank you, Mrs. Flowers,
for saying,
“You will never love poetry.”
to that silent,
little girl,
Maya Angelou.

SOURCE: Terry Gross interview with Maya Angelou on Fresh Air (National Public Radio, 1986).

IMAGE: Maya Angelou (1928-2014) as a child in Stamps, Arkansas.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Maya Angelou spoke in poetry. It is particularly poignant that she, who had such a resounding, beautiful voice, did not speak when she was a child. She had her reasons. As a memorial to Maya Angelo, I wanted to find some of her words and format them as a poem. This is how we experienced her spoken words. That was easy to do, for whenever Maya Angelo opened her mouth, out came poetry! Maya Angelo should have credit for this poem, not I. I simply found it and brought it home.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Debra B. Hori writes about the normal, everyday-ness of grief, love, nature, and other exquisitely ordinary things. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, This I, and For Readers Edification & Debauchery (FRE&D). She lives in Pasadena with her two cats and her son. Visit her at