The Mask

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The Mask

by Maya Angelou

We wear the mask that grins and lies.
It shades our cheeks and hides our eyes.
This debt we pay to human guile
With torn and bleeding hearts…
We smile and mouth the myriad subtleties.
Why should the world think otherwise
In counting all our tears and sighs.
Nay let them only see us while
We wear the mask.

We smile but oh my God
Our tears to thee from tortured souls arise
And we sing Oh Baby doll, now we sing…
The clay is vile beneath our feet
And long the mile
But let the world think otherwise.
We wear the mask.

When I think about myself
I almost laugh myself to death.
My life has been one great big joke!
A dance that’s walked a song that’s spoke.
I laugh so hard HA! HA! I almos’ choke
When I think about myself.

Seventy years in these folks’ world
The child I works for calls me girl
I say “HA! HA! HA! Yes ma’am!”
For workin’s sake
I’m too proud to bend and
Too poor to break
So…I laugh! Until my stomach ache
When I think about myself.
My folks can make me split my side
I laugh so hard, HA! HA! I nearly died
The tales they tell sound just like lying
They grow the fruit but eat the rind.
Hmm huh! I laugh uhuh huh huh…
Until I start to cry when I think about myself
And my folks and the children.

My fathers sit on benches,
Their flesh count every plank,
The slats leave dents of darkness
Deep in their withered flank.
And they gnarled like broken candles,
All waxed and burned profound.
They say, but sugar, it was our submission
that made your world go round.

There in those pleated faces
I see the auction block
The chains and slavery’s coffles
The whip and lash and stock.

My fathers speak in voices
That shred my fact and sound
They say, but sugar, it was our submission
that made your world go round.

They laugh to conceal their crying,
They shuffle through their dreams
They stepped ’n fetched a country
And wrote the blues in screams.
I understand their meaning,
It could an did derive
From living on the edge of death
They kept my race alive
By wearing the mask! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!

Notes:

An adaptation of the poem by Paul Lawrence "We Wear the Mask"

We Wear the Mask

We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It shades our cheeks and hides our eyes—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should that world be overwise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.

We smile, but, oh my God, our cries
To Thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh, the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world think otherwise,
We wear the mask.

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Miscellany


Other poems by Maya Angelou (read randomly)


There are some nights when
sleep plays coy,
aloof and disdainful.

I note the obvious differences
in the human family.
Some of us are serious,

When love is a shimmering curtain
Before a door of chance
That leads to a world in question

We die,
Welcoming Bluebeards to our darkening closets,
Stranglers to our outstretched necks,

Lying, thinking
Last night
How to find my soul a home

They went home and told their wives,
that never once in all their lives,
had they known a girl like me,

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt

Beloved,
In what other lives or lands
Have I known your lips

The highway is full of big cars
going nowhere fast
And folks is smoking anything that'll burn

You drink a bitter draught.
I sip the tears your eyes fight to hold
A cup of lees, of henbane steeped in chaff.

One innocent spring
your voice meant to me
less than tires turning

When you come to me, unbidden,
Beckoning me
To long-ago rooms,

Curtains forcing their will
against the wind,
children sleep,

There is no warning rattle at the door
nor heavy feet to stomp the foyer boards.
Safe in the dark prison, I know that

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s siz …
But when I start to tell them,

A Rock, A River, A Tree
Hosts to species long since departed,
Marked the mastodon,

I keep on dying again.
Veins collapse, opening like the
Small fists of sleeping

Some clichty folks
don't know the facts,
posin' and preenin'

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