Category Archives: poetry

Meeting Maya

Passing Time

Your skin like dawn
Mine like dusk.

One paints the beginning
of a certain end.

The other, the end of a
sure beginning.

Maya Angelou

 

Every now and then, perhaps just once in a lifetime, we are in the presence of someone who, we suspect, must be a god. She walked into the room donning a long brightly colored African caftan, her hair wrapped in a turban, holding herself high, seemingly floating on grace. Elegant and eloquent. Each word carefully chosen, as in her poems. The clarity with which she annunciated. Offering words up like holy communion.

I met Maya Angelou before I knew who she was, before many of us knew her. It was 1975 and Random House had just published “Oh Pray My Wings are Going to Fit Me Me Well” and she was on book tour in Hartford CT. The Public Relations department at G. Fox & Co., a large department store, was sponsoring the event in a reception room.

I was on my first job out of college as Communications Editor at G. Fox & Co. With a Polaroid camera strapped over my shoulder, pen and steno pad in hand, I interviewed managers and covered rallies and events for material in publishing “Fox Tales,” the monthly in-house magazine. It was the day of literal cut and paste, and that deadline was perhaps the only time I could be found at my desk. Otherwise I got to run around, and I especially enjoyed covering events such as this that had nothing at all to do with the retail world.

Back to Maya.

Her every word, her commanding presence, demanded we listen, just listen. I remember her attentiveness to us. Her joy in reading. It was like being at a sermon where you get it. And the congregation comes floating out, higher than they were when they came in.

A woman who was silent for so many years. A silence that must have been cleansing like a fast. Thus her purity of words. How could I not think she was deity?

When our daughters were young, we toured the United Nations in NYC. A friend of the family, a delegate, had arranged for us to go behind the scenes. It was spectacular—all the art, the etiquette, rich in languages and men in robes. Ten year old Jackie believed she was in the presence of “kings of many lands.” No one could dissuade her and no one wanted to, for her awe and respect was beautiful.

I felt much this way meeting Maya.

I took her photograph that day and came away with a signed book. That photograph is pressed somewhere in the pages, and that book is packed because I am moving. And now she has died, and I long to hold it.

 

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