I was fortunate enough to get awesome seats for Anja, her mother Donna and I to see Maya Angelou last week. We were in the fourth row! At 83 years young, she can still silence an audience with her incredible prose and stories. Everyone was in complete awe. I still remember the first time I heard her speak. It was during the ’93 inauguration, I was eleven, and I remember vividly how big the world felt when she somehow managed to wrap her voice around it. I collected all her work and my well worn editions still sit prominently on my bookshelf, covered in post-its and scribbled notes and pictures.
One of my favorite parts of that night was hearing her read ‘The Health-Food Diner’ Have you ever read it? I can just imagine her in the diner booth every time I read it!
The Health-Food Diner
No sprouted wheat and soya shoots
And Brussels in a cake,
Carrot straw and spinach raw,
(Today, I need a steak).
Not thick brown rice and rice pilaw
Or mushrooms creamed on toast,
Turnips mashed and parsnips hashed,
(I’m dreaming of a roast).
Health-food folks around the world
Are thinned by anxious zeal,
They look for help in seafood kelp
(I count on breaded veal).
No smoking signs, raw mustard greens,
Zucchini by the ton,
Uncooked kale and bodies frail
Are sure to make me run
Loins of pork and chicken thighs
And standing rib, so prime,
Pork chops brown and fresh ground round
(I crave them all the time).
Irish stews and boiled corned beef
and hot dogs by the scores,
or any place that saves a space
For smoking carnivores.
Okay, so I obviously don’t agree with the ethics of all she says, but I still can’t help but love the poem. I remember reading it several times over after some of my more difficult shifts at the health food market I worked in during my senior year of college. You know, when someone wants a product that is so ethical it simply doesn’t exist, or balk at the thought that you enjoy a handful of Ranch Doritos or french fries now and then.
Being that I lost my grandmother just under two years ago, I couldn’t help but think of a post-Maya world. We have so few truly peaceful voices and advocates today. Her biggest message of equality and ability stemmed from a quote by Terence, a neo-classical playwright of North African descent. He said:
“I am a human being, nothing human can be alien to me.”
Of that quote she said:
“If a human being dreams a great dream, dares to love somebody; if a human being dares to be Martin King, or Mahatma Gandhi, or Mother Theresa, or Malcolm X; if a human being dares to be bigger than the condition into which she or he was born—it means so can you. And so you can try to stretch, stretch, stretch yourself so you can internalize, ‘Homo sum, humani nil a me alienum puto. I am a human being, nothing human can be alien to me.’ That’s one thing I’m learning.”
Truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I was happy to see that they allowed more people (mostly students and children) to enter and watch from the floor or aisles. I hope they enjoy and learn from her as much as I have. Do you have a favorite author or poet? What drew you to their work?