Cathedral Redwood: A Poem for Maya Angelou

by Glenis Redmond

You were the highest point on my horizon
in Piedmont, a redwood that I looked up to –
especially on high school bookshelves.
I had to tiptoe to grasp your spiritual height,

so I buried myself at your base --
looked within your pages
and always found myself climbing
into your wisdom ringed trunk.

I was a student studying how to free a caged bird.
The song in your Arkansas voice
was the right mix of rough mahogany bark
and sweet dark drip of molasses: bitter sweet medicine

always wrapped in a 19th century Negro Spiritual
like There’s a Rainbow in the Clouds.
Or, the bone of an African Proverb
handed to us suck the marrow long after you spoke:
When someone tells you who they are: believe them.

You penned yourself a Phenomenal Woman
phenomenally and we believed you.
You taught us to love ourselves
no matter our size, but you were always more
than the pages and on stages you possessed.

You brought yourself from axe hack and splinters.
Resurrected yourself from the woodsman
that tried to make you a tree falling,
with only you hearing the sound of your heart breaking.

You told. Whispered his name found the power of words.
After you murmured his name. They murdered him
He still almost won: you stitched your mouth shut.
Carried the weight of his tombstone within you.
You went to a dark place. Where I was
where so many little girls go the place
where you thought no one wanted
to hear you speak –- much less sing.

All Siddhartha Gautama you sat under the trees
in communion with Shakespeare, Dunbar
Cullen, Keats and a host of others.
Under chakra colored leaf fall you meditated on the muse
Rose with diamonds and oils wells of pride.

Answered limb break: Broke the lock
and every spindle on the cage.
We prospered. You traveled out of the huts
of personal and collective shame

Walked with the wisdom of your grandma:
When get you give, when you learn you teach.
from rich ground through rocky soil
from sapling to tree to bark to branch
to leaf tip to reams upon reams
to blood’s ink on pages that takes wing.

Not a bitter poison turn to cancer,
but a balm in every musical syllable
You sang healing: comfrey. Sometimes
I cannot tell the bird from the leaf
You Redwood. You Cathedral.
You Church sacred. Even in this cloud
of your leaving. I pour libations.
Goblets of tears I spill,
Even in this poem. I am grounded
with what you commanded: find rainbows.

Photo: Joseph Sohm /

Glenis Redmond lives in Charlotte, NC. She has traveled to all over the state and the country as a Road Poet with two posts as the Poet-in-Residence at The Peace Center for the Performing Arts in Greenville, SC and at the State Theatre in New Brunswick, NJ. This year she served as the Mentor Poet for the National Student Poets Program. She prepared student poets to read at the Library of Congress, the Department of Education and for the First Lady, Michelle Obama at The White House.