I was no more than twelve years old when I was asked to read Maya’s “Still I Rise” at a Black History program for my church. I was working hard to memorize the lines and as I was practicing, my mother told me that I wasn’t allowed to say one of the lines:
“Does my sexiness upset you? Does it come as a surprise that I dance like I’ve got diamonds at the meeting of my thighs?”
I knew why saying sexy at church probably wasn’t the right thing to do. But what was the hold up about the diamonds? There was nothing wrong with those right? Diamonds weren’t unholy. I looked at my thighs often after that. My brown legs that grew bigger and thicker and still the thought of bedazzled thighs wasn’t something absurd for a 90s kid. Who didn’t have jeans with rhinestones on them?
I’ve always known my body. I understood that it belonged solely to me. I explicitly recall my mother doing my hair and while on one of her many rants she pointed “at the meeting of my thighs” with her periwinkle brush and said “you don’t let anyone touch you there.” I also remember visiting my mother in the hospital after she had her hysterectomy. She pulled back her gown, showed my sister and me the scar, and explained to us what the doctors did to her body, and why they did it.
My Mother and my Maya taught me about my diamonds. I’m unsure of when it clicked that Maya was referring to priceless sway and shimmy that emerges when you know that you got something priceless at the meetings of your thighs. I would close my eyes and imagine a younger Maya in a red dress, long and lean, with her hand on her hip letting her back bone slip, with the sweet sound of a hidden chandelier of bling… barely audible to the ear.
Yes. Maya was a woman. Not a girl, not a female, not a lady.
Maya, through her writing, taught me what authenticity truly meant. It means honoring your body with your words, exalting your spirit with your song, and using the truth to save your life even when it hurts. I grew up with Maya. She was first a sister to me as I read “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” and became an auntie who told me the secrets my mother didn’t have the nerve to utter when I delved into her poems. And as I aged she became the sage that was my saving grace.
There was a point in my career where I had such a tense conflict with a coworker that I had to move my desk to another part of the office. As I cleaned up my new space there was a small piece of paper on the floor. When I picked it up it read “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maya has always attended closely to me.
I’m not sad that she’s gone. She fulfilled her life’s mission. I will never forget how she’s made me feel. I will always carry closely her ability to cajole the world with her words in such a way to move us to action. Maya gave of herself completely. Ensuring that she left her life works for every black girl to know and grow from. Well done good and faithful servant.