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Maya Angelou: The Poetic Mistiness of Death 2

Fri, 6 Jun 2014 Source: Kwarteng, Francis

“In life as in dance, grace glides on blistered feet (Alice Abrams).”

Death, a great mystery. Oh Death, Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart”! Death, the great mystery. Death, a faceless mask, is An Angel every so often. Other times The Devil. Both in the finite consciousness of mortal man. Oh Death, Ayi Kwei Armah’s “The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born”! Mmm! Death, a faceless mask, is a moral spiel about the battle between Angel Gabriel and Satan in Salman Rushdie’s “The Satanic Verses.” Oh Death, Bob Marley’s “Stiff Necked Fools”! Death, a faceless mask, is not a salesperson, though Death is a barter system, human finiteness for the bowels of the earth! Oh Death, a terrible dancer! The poetic mistiness of Death, neither black nor white. Not even gray.

Yet Death is a bloody coward, a bloody liar. Yet Death is not the kind of man to defy the power of greatness. Yet the power of greatness is antidotal to the moral weakness of Death. Yet mortal man is not privy to this truism. Ask Bob Marley! Ask Cheikh Anta Diop! Ask Malcolm X! Ask Rolihlahla Nelson Mandela! Ask WEB Du Bois! Ask Kwame Nkrumah! Ask Elizabeth Nyanibah, Nkrumah’s mother, the Great Mother of Africa! The power of greatness, ask Maya Angelou what that is all about. Maya Angelou said to the world: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Certainly, that woman, Maya Angelou, can touch the feet of man’s dying soul with the emotive fire of her poetic frankness, her poetic malleability. That is a classic definition of greatness. In and of itself.

Greatness. The power of greatness. That great woman, Maya Angelou, was indeed a thesaurus of greatness?political, literary, and social. Maya Angelou wrote for the “Ghanaian Times”; she was a formidable presence in the Ghanaian clerisy, the 1960s, a skilled dramaturgist in Ghana’s National Theatre. Besides, she, Maya Angelou, was a great journalist and a professor in Kwame Nkrumah’s Ghana, as Nkrumah’s political-personality and cultural-intellectual presence captured the world’s imagination, drawing an articulated-train of great men and women to Ghana, to Africa. Efua Sutherland was by her side, Maya Angelou’s, but, elsewhere, John Henrik Clarke, Cicely Tyson, Malcolm X, Vusumzi Make, Jerry Purcell, James Earl Jones, James Baldwin, Martin Luther King, Jr., Louis Gossett, Tyler Perry, and Oprah Winfrey…stood by and with her.

That great flowery woman, Maya Angelou, composed music scores, wrote the screenplay for “Georgia, Georgia”; composed songs for Roberta Flack; made an appearance in the serialized version of “Roots” on American television as well as quest appearances in “Sesame Street” and “Touched By an Angel” and “Poetic Justice”; appeared with Oprah Winfrey in “There Are No Children Her”; provided her narrative voice for the movies “The Journey of August King“ and “How to Make an American Quilt”; produced a full calypso album; featured in Tyler Perry’s “Madea’s Family Reunion”; produced plays, authored short stories, articles, documentaries, TV scripts…Maya Angelou was the first black director in Hollywood. Greatness. Her power of greatness. Nkrumah’s global political and intellectual magnetism!

Greatness is a product of the mind, not of Death. That woman, Maya Angelou, won several accolades (Grammies, a Tony, etc). She also directed the movie “Down in the Delta” and the television series “Visions”; she received no less than fifty honorary degrees, the 2011 Presidential Medal of Freedom, a Pulitzer Prize, the 2000 National Medal of Arts, a 2013 honorary National Book Award…Maya Angelou held the lifetime Reynolds Professorship of American Studies at North Carolina’s Wake Forest University. She also coordinated the activities of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), a civil rights organization once presided over by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Maya Angelou gave a helping hand to the formation of Malcolm X’s Organization of Afro-American Unity, a civil rights institution modeled after Kwame Nkrumah’s Organization of African Unity.

Maya Angelou gifted at least 300 boxes of documents, documentaries covering her career memorabilia, her and her editor’s professional and personal epistolary, personal papers related to “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” etc., to New York’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. That woman, Maya Angelou, her unbridled kindness, her uninhibited generosity, shone like Oprah’s. That emotive womb of literary powerhouse glittered before the sea of humanity with her poetic philanthropy. That obliging spoken-word of womanly greatness, Maya Angelou, poetically gurgled “On the Pulse of Morning” at Bill Clinton’s presidential inauguration, while JB Danquah’s and KA Busia’s National Liberation Movement (NLM) blew off Elizabeth Asantewaa’s leg and doused Nkrumah’s poetic body in the political acid of the Kulungugu Bombing.

That urbane womb of literary creativeness, Maya Angelou, was associated with a unique vocal parturition, “A Brave and Startling Truth,” which she freely gave to the United Nations, the sea of humanity. She was a magnificent dancer as well. Maya Angelou’s dancing-hips mechanically moved the world to the social galaxy of tears, turned the warm tears of socio-political eunuchs into oceans of manly elation. Those musical and poetic hips of hers. Those talking-blues hips of hers. Indeed, Maya Angelou’s complex arabesque of vocal poetics and rarefied boogie-woogie literariness endeared her to the world, even as her cross-eyed poetics spoke visual truthfulness to the sinful world. Death is indeed fortuitously and advertently wicked, so callous. Death is a spiritual armed robber. Death is a sinner. Death is home-destroyer. Whose coffin is that, if not Death’s?

Oh mortal men and women! Let no one dare put Death in a moral sarcophagus of concrete particularities. Death discriminates, though cautiously, it still is a respecter of persons. Death killed Apartheid, Adolf Hitler, Slavery, Osama bin Laden, Jim-Crowism, Colonialism, Idi Amin, but preserves the testate and intestate legacies of great minds, such as those of Kwame Nkrumah, Hendrik Lorentz, Bob Marley, Cheikh Anta Diop, Max Planck, Mahama Gandhi, Peter Tosh, WEB Du Bois, Nelson Mandela, Chinua Achebe, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, Marcus Garvey, Mother Teresa, Henri Poincare, David Hilbert, Arthur Lewis, you name it…Greatness. The power of greatness. Maya Angelou’s significant contributions to feminist scholarship, critical race theory, and child development are not in question, as Daniel Challener’s “”Stories of Resilience in Childish,” Jocelyn A. Glazier, and Chris Boyatzis, respectively, have descriptively confirmed. Her rich legacy to the world, Maya Angelou.

Her death is not death. It is merely life. She is still here. She is still there. Maya Angelou is sandwiched between here and there. A poetic limbo. That is poetic factualness, Maya Angelou’s seeming earthly departure from her affective celestial literariness. Her poetic singularity, her trombone-vocal rareness. Her pelvic rhythmicity, her pelvic musicality. Sister Maya Angelou, where are you? Where is the end of the soulful journey, Boyz ll Men’s “End of the Road,” Sister Maya Angelou? On the other hand, “Rastaman Chant,” Bob Marley’s poetic threnody, accompanies Maya Angelou on her soulful journey to the ancestors. He sings:

And I hear the angel with the seven seals say;

I say fly away to Zion;

I say fly away to Zion;

One bright morning when my work is over, Man will fly away home;

Literally, as if on cue, Tupac welcomes Maya Angelou to the underworld, as he sings (“Thugz Mansion”):

Seen a show with Marvin last night, it had me shook;

Drippin peppermint Schnapps, with Jackie Wilson, and Sam Cooke;

Then some lady named Billie Holiday;

Sang sittin there kickin it with Malcolm;

In a somewhat rhythmic and lyrical lockstep with Tupac and the other celebrants, Maya Angelou joins the celebration, singing at the top of her lordly voice:

Maybe in time you’ll understand only God can save us;

When Miles Davis cuttin lose with the band;

Just think of the people that you knew in the past that passed on, they in heaven, found peace at last;

Picture a place that they exist, together; There has to be a place better that this, in heaven;

So right before I sleep, dear God, what I’m askin;

Remember this face, save me a place…;

That great woman, Maya Angelou, was in a great company. Bob Marley was there. Peter Tosh was there. Malcolm X was there. Mother Teresa was there. Paul Robeson was there. WEB Du Bois was there. Mahatma Gandhi was there. Marcus Garvey was there. Kwame Nkrumah was there. George Padmore was there. Frederick Douglas was there. Amilcar Cabral was there. Chinua Achebe was there. Cheikh Anta Diop was there. Nelson Mandela was there. Ivan Van Sertima was there. Dedan Kimathi was there. Kofi Awoonor was there. All the freedom fighters were there…

In the end, Tupac dedicates his “Dear Mama” to her, Maya Angelou, Prince Nico Mbarga his “Sweet Mother,” Peter Tosh his “Mama Africa,” Shaggy his “Strength of a Woman,” Michael Jackson his “You Are Not Alone,” Boyz ll Men their “A Song for Mama,” Josh Groban his “You Raise Me Up,” Whitney Houston her “I Look to You,” R. Kelly his “I Believe I Can Fly,”…As expected, these songs did not point to any overt or covert comprehension of the fickle ways of Death. Only Death understands itself. Only Death does not understand itself. Life, on the contrary, is far removed from the material consciousness of deathly actualities. Those reservations notwithstanding, Death’s ontological behavior is not dissimilar to Abuoba J.A. Adofo’s Highlife threnodic track “Owu Mpaso.”

We, us, like Abuoba J.A. Adofo, would have wished to accompany Maya Angelou to the sacred land of rebirth, in much the same way Abuoba J.A. Adofo would have predictably wanted to escort her dead mother to the bowels of the earth. Is that even necessary since Maya Angelou is still here with us, still there with us? Death, an alogical phenomenology, kills a mother and her child, hypothetically slaughters Abuoba J.A. Adofo and his mother. Death can indeed be incomprehensively sour, religiously foolhardy, and uncompromisingly babyish. Life is no different. In fact, life is synonymously death-in-waiting! Death is not Fela Kuti’s “Mr. Follow Follow.”

Neither is death Snr. Eddie Donkoh’s “Asiko Darling” nor Ziggy Marley’s “Conscious Party.” Death is more an ontological approximation of Teacher’s “Oheneba Ne Nea No Papa Te Ase” or Nana Amapadu’s “Obra.” Maya Angelou you are Prince Nico Mbarga’s “Sweet Mother” and Tupac’s “Life Goes On.” Let the world sing Maya Angelou “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika”! That great woman, Maya Angelou, deserves it more than Jane Austen, William Shakespeare, George Bernard Shaw, Emile Bronte, Geoffrey Chaucer, William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge…Where is Nas’ “If I ruled The World”? Is Maya Angelou not a poetic, lyrical ruler of the world? What would have been her rendition of Nas’ “If I ruled The World”?

Death, a mystery. Man dies. Animals die. Plants die. The earth is dying. What is the purpose of life then? Is the purpose of life death? If Death were poetic floweriness, then Maya Angelou in death is living life to the fullest. But if Death were livid floweriness, then Maya Angelou is merely in prosodic transition. Yes, bad writers die, but why should great writers like Maya Angelou also die? She shall forever be with humanity. Still, the frigid hands of Death could not take away the fact that Maya Angelou straddled two worlds, the world and the African world, the latter constituting her Mende genetic ontology.

What is more, we reliably recall one of her poignant stories, the same way we reliably recall reading her “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” her international bestseller, at fourteen, in which, that is, with regard to the former, she paid a visit to a locality in West Africa, where, astonishingly, a “traditional” African priest, a sage, if you will, confirmed her ancestral lineage as being of the Mende. Or something very close.

But, Maya Angelou, a firm believer in her cultural and ancestral Africanness, did not question the cultural spirituality and vocal authority of priestly wisdom, though, many years later, DNA, the genetic engine of ethno-racial definition, would confirm that priestly wisdom of yesteryear. In other words, DNA pointed her to Africa as it did Quincy Jones, Vanessa Williams, and several of the African Diaspora. Thus, African spiritually proved as powerfully confirmatory as human genomics. That, however, could be equated with an interpretive strand of “Poetic Justice,” a movie featuring Tupac and Janet Jackson, along Maya Angelou. Janet Jackson, it may be recalled, is the vocal signature behind “Let’s Wait a While.” Could Death have waited a while? Tupac, a lyrical poet, on the other hand, sang “Life Goes On”: Bury me smilin’ with G’s in my pocket; have a party at my funeral; let every rapper rock it;…kiss me from head to toe; give me a paper and a pen; so I can write about my life of sin…” What did Maya Angelou say to both Janet Jackson and Tupac?

Her poetic riposte went like this: “Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘fore I Diiie.”

Columnist: Kwarteng, Francis