You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
’Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don't you take it awful hard
’Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
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?
Out of the huts of history’s shame
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
Still I Rise by Maya Angelou
Mel was trapped. While her upper body had emerged onto the roof, the heavy, thick skirt had left the rest of her wedged tightly in the window. She kicked desperately but nothing happened. It was beginning to rain, tiny droplets hissing against the tiles. Mel took a few breaths to calm herself. She could fix this, right? Carefully, she twisted her hips so her body was positioned diagonally within the window frame. She gave another great push, and this time, she wriggled free.
Mel cringed as a few sequins popped loose, but otherwise, the gown appeared undamaged. Now how to get down? She walked to the edge of the roof and assessed the drop. Three meters or so, she guessed–frightening, but not impossible. She lay belly down on the corner of the roof with her legs dangling over the edge and tossed her boots down, away from her landing zone. Gripping the ledge with her hands, she slowly lowered herself until at last she was forced to commit to the fall.
She landed in a crouch, the soles of her feet smarting, and she was grateful she’d thought to wear her trainers. She snatched her boots from the puddle where they’d fallen. She didn’t know what time it was, but she guessed she had less than half an hour before she was supposed to meet Anne.
Seeing no other option, Mel began to sprint. The rain was coming down in earnest now, so hard that she could barely see. She wiped her glasses with a finger, but they were spattered again as soon as she cleaned them. Her shoes, both the ones she wore and the ones she carried, were completely soaked. The umbrella-like skirt at least kept her legs dry, but the wet bodice clung uncomfortably to her skin. Mel darted into the street.
Mel jumped out of the way as a pair of headlights suddenly filled her field of vision. The driver jumped out, waving her hands emphatically.
“What are you doing, Mel? Were you trying to make me hit you?”
“Jackie!” Mel gasped, too relieved to remember they were fighting.
“Get in the car, Mel, you’re soaked.”
Mel and her enormous dress staggered into the car and Jackie shut the door behind her.
For a few blocks, the only sound was the wheezing of the Metro’s engine. Then Jackie pulled over and said, “Alright, tell me what happened.”
She told her everything. Trying to ask Anne out, the fight with her parents, climbing off the roof. Jackie nodded along without saying much.
“I do think that I passed my English exam because of you,” Mel said at last.
“I told you I’m a good tutor,” said Jackie. “Your eyeliner is smudged. Lucky for you I’ve got my makeup stuff with me. A thinner line will work better with your glasses anyway.”
It only took Jackie a few minutes to redo the eye makeup that had taken Mel hours. Without a word, she shifted the car back into gear and pulled onto the road.
“Where are we going?” asked Mel.
“Well you don’t want to be late to meet your date,” said Jackie.
“You’re not going to say something passive-aggressive about how she’s replacing you?”
Jackie snorted. “Mel, I know you’re not replacing me. That Annie lass can be your girlfriend, but you’re still my best friend.”
Mel noticed for the first time that Jackie was wearing her usual jeans and band shirt rather than formal attire.
“You’re not going to the party, are you?” she said.
“Roger and I decided we’d have our own party. Make scones and watch eighties movies together. You know, really wild stuff like that. I was on my way to his house when I almost hit you.”
Roger. Mel hadn’t asked about him in weeks. Maybe she had been slacking as a friend.
“We’re here,” Jackie said. “And your date’s waiting for you.”
And there was Anne. Standing beside a doorway strung with fairy lights, dressed in a sleek apricot-coloured dress with an umbrella to match, her long cornrows swept into an elegant knot atop her head.
“Jackie, I can’t thank you enough–”
“Thank me later!” she scolded. “Anne’s waiting now!”
Anne gave an excited little wave as Jackie drove off. Mel was suddenly aware of the squelching sound her shoes made when she walked and the way her hair was going to curl when it dried, but Anne didn’t comment on any of that.
“Mel, you’re enchanting,” she said, her voice barely above a whisper.
For a moment, neither of them could figure out what to do with their hands.
And then, before she could think of a suitable answer, Anne said, “I thought you were going to stand me up for a minute there. Come on, Mel. Let’s go have fun.”
About the author: Ella Shively is a writer and wildlife technician in northern Florida. You can find her online at https://www.instagram.com/shivelywrites/.
About this chapter's featured poet: An acclaimed American poet, storyteller, activist, and autobiographer, Maya Angelou was born Marguerite Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri. Angelou had a broad career as a singer, dancer, actress, composer, and Hollywood’s first female black director, but became most famous as a writer, editor, essayist, playwright, and poet. As a civil rights activist, Angelou worked for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. She was also an educator and served as the Reynolds professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University. You can find more information about this incredible woman here: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/maya-angelou