“The Mask”

A combination poem from Maya Angelou and Paul Laurence Dunbar


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, I almos’ choke
When I think about myself.

You see seventy years in these folks’ world
The child I works for calls me girl.
I say Yes ma’am!”
For workin’s sake
I’m too proud to bend and
Too poor to break.
I laugh so hard my stomach ache
When I think about myself.
My folks can make me split my side
I laugh so hard, I nearly died.
The tales they tell sound just like lying
They grow the fruit but eat the rind.
I laugh so hard, I started crying
when I think about myself and the little chil’ren.

Then we wear the mask, that grins and lies.
It shades our chitter eyes.
This debt we pay to human guile
With torn and bleeding hearts
We smile and mouth the myriad subtleties.
Why should the 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 tears to thee from tortured souls arise
And we sing, now 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.

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.

They laugh to hide 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 and did derive
From living on the edge of death
They kept my race alive
By wearing the mask! The mask ha! The mask



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