A Georgia Song, by Maya Angelou
In tribute to Maya Angelou, Martin Luther King, Jr., and all African-American poets and dreamers who see into us and into our history with razor-sharp eyes, ears and tongues.
As a transplanted (from California) citizen of Savannah, Georgia, I grew up surrounded by two stories–the white story splashed boldly across the city of Savannah and its outlying communities, and the black story inextricably woven into the warp and woof of everyday life. Visible yet invisible. Maya Angelou’s poem is haunting for its accuracy, its longing for something better, and its painful memories. I’ve included a few explanatory notes at the end.
A Georgia Song
We swallow the odors of Southern cities,
Fat back boiled to submission,
Tender evening poignancies of
Magnolia and the great green
Smell of fresh sweat.
In Southern fields,
The sound of distant
Feet running, or dancing,
And the liquid notes of
Waltzes, screams and
French quadrilles float over
The loam of Georgia.
Sing me to sleep, Savannah.
Clocks run down in Tara’s halls and dusty
Flags droop their unbearable
Remember our days, Susannah.
Oh, the blood-red clay,
Wet still with ancient
Wrongs, and Abenaa
Singing her Creole airs to Macon.
We long, dazed, for winter evenings
And a whitened moon,
And the snap of controllable fires.
Cry for our souls, Augusta.
We need a wind to strike
Sharply, as the thought of love
Betrayed can stop the heart
An absence of tactile
Romance, no lips offering
Succulence, nor eyes
Rolling disconnected from
A Sambo face.
Dare us new dreams, Columbus.
A cool new moon, a
Winter’s night, calm blood,
Sluggish, moving only
Out of habit, we need
Oh Atlanta, oh deep, and
Once lost city,
Chant for us a new song. A song
Of Southern peace.
Poem found in Maya Angelou: Poetry for Young People, Sterling Children’s Books, New York, published 2013
Cities in Georgia named in this poem: Savannah, Macon, Augusta, Columbus and Atlanta
Fatback is a Southern delicacy – fat from a side of pork, often fried like chips; here, the reference is to harsh treatment of slaves.
“Tara’s halls” refers to the home of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind.
Abenaa – a girl born on Tuesday (in the Fanti language)
Creole – of mixed African and European ancestry
Sambo – stereotypic nickname for an African American boy
The painting at the top depicts the beginning of Sherman’s March through Georgia in the 1850s — from Atlanta to Savannah, with the goal of total submission of the South, along with the so-called end of slavery. The uncounted tragedies of this war include the attempt of our country to root out anyone standing in the way of our ‘pre-ordained greatness.’ Hence, on the other side of this Uncivil War, lurked attempts of some to drive out or destroy American Indians who stood in the way of railroads and the gold rush.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Maya Angelou and other poets challenge us to rise above our past. To become truly great as human beings, unafraid to look up, greet each other, and join the human race.
© Elouise Renich Fraser, 15 January 2018
Artwork found at allpurposegurulcom; painter and title not identified