Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water 'fore I Diiie

BOOK: Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water 'fore I Diiie

1971 by Maya Angelou

All rights reserved under International
and Pan-American Copyright Conventions.
Published in the United States by
Random House, Inc., New York,
and simultaneously in Canada
by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.

The following poems were first published in
The Poetry of Maya Angelou
and are reprinted
by permission of Hirt Music Inc.
1969 by Hirt Music Inc.:
“They Went Home,” “The Gamut,”
“To a Man,” “No Loser, No Weeper,”
“When You Come to Me, “Remembering,”
“In a Time,” “Tears,” “The Detached,”
“To a Husband,” “Accident,” “Let's
Majeste” or the “Ego and I,”
“On Diverse Deviations,” “Mourning Grace,”
“Sounds Like Pearls,” “When I Think
About Myself,” “Letter to an Aspiring
Junkie,” “Miss Scarlett, Mr. Rhett & Other
Latter-Day Saints,” “Faces,” “To a Freedom
Fighter,” “Riot: 60's,” “No No No No,”
“Black Ode,” “My Guilt,” “The Calling of
Names,” “On Working White Liberals,”
“Sepia Fashion Show,” “The Thirteens
(Black),” “The Thirteens (White),”
“Harlem Hopscotch.”

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 70-156964
eISBN: 978-0-307-83327-3

Random House Website address:



and the ZORRO MAN

Where Love Is a Scream of Anguish
They Went Home

They went home and told their wives,

  that never once in all their lives,

  had they known a girl like me,

But … They went home.

They said my house was licking clean,

  no word I spoke was ever mean,

  I had an air of mystery,

But … They went home.

My praises were on all men's lips,

  they liked my smile, my wit, my hips,

  they'd spend one night, or two or three.

But …

The Gamut

Soft you day, be velvet soft,

  My true love approaches,

Look you bright, you dusty sun,

  Array your golden coaches.

  Soft you wind, be soft as silk

My true love is speaking.

  Hold you birds, your silver throats,

His golden voice I'm seeking.

Come you death, in haste, do come

  My shroud of black be weaving,

Quiet my heart, be deathly quiet,

  My true love is leaving.

A Zorro Man


in the wombed room

silk purple drapes

flash a light as subtle

as your hands before



in the covered lens

I catch a

clitoral image of

your general inhabitation

long and like a

late dawn in winter


this clean mirror

traps me unwilling

in a gone time

when I was love

and you were booted and brave

and trembling for me.

To a Man

My man is

Black Golden Amber


Warm mouths of Brandy Fine

Cautious sunlight on a patterned rug

Coughing laughter, rocked on a whorl of French tobacco

Graceful turns on woolen stilts


A cat's eye.

Southern. Plump and tender with navy bean sullenness

And did I say “Tender”?

The gentleness

A big cat stalks through stubborn bush

And did I mention “Amber”?

The heatless fire consuming itself.

Again. Anew. Into ever neverlessness.

My man is Amber


Always into itself

New. Now New.

Still itself.


Late October


the leaves of autumn

sprinkle down the tinny

sound of little dyings

and skies sated

of ruddy sunsets

of roseate dawns

roil ceaselessly in

cobweb greys and turn

to black

for comfort.

Only lovers

see the fall

a signal end to endings

a gruffish gesture alerting

those who will not be alarmed

that we begin to stop

in order simply

to begin


No Loser, No Weeper

“I hate to lose something,”

  then she bent her head

“even a dime, I wish I was dead.

I can't explain it. No more to be said.

Cept I hate to lose something.”

“I lost a doll once and cried for a week.

She could open her eyes, and do all but speak.

I believe she was took, by some doll-snatching-sneak

I tell you, I hate to lose something.”

“A watch of mine once, got up and walked away.

It had twelve numbers on it and for the time of day.

I'll never forget it and all I can say

Is I really hate to lose something.”

“Now if I felt that way bout a watch and a toy,

What you think I feel bout my lover-boy?

I ain't threatening you madam, but he is my evening's joy.

And I mean I really hate to lose something.”

When You Come to Me

  When you come to me, unbidden,

Beckoning me

  To long-ago rooms,

Where memories lie.

  Offering me, as to a child, an attic,

Gatherings of days too few.

  Baubles of stolen kisses.

Trinkets of borrowed loves.

  Trunks of secret words,

      I CRY.


Soft grey ghosts crawl up my sleeve

to peer into my eyes

while I within deny their threats

and answer them with lies.

Mushlike memories perform

a ritual on my lips

I lie in stolid hopelessness

and they lay my soul in strips.

In a Time

In a time of secret wooing

Today prepares tomorrow's ruin

Left knows not what right is doing

My heart is torn asunder.

In a time of furtive sighs

Sweet hellos and sad goodbyes

Half-truths told and entire lies

My conscience echoes thunder

In a time when kingdoms come

Joy is brief as summer's fun

Happiness, its race has run

Then pain stalks in to plunder.



The crystal rags

Viscous tatters

of a worn-through soul


Deep swan song

Blue farewell

of a dying dream.

The Detached

We die,

Welcoming Bluebeards to our darkening closets,

Stranglers to our outstretched necks.

  Stranglers, who neither care nor

  care to know that


We pray,

Savoring sweet the teethed lies,

Bellying the grounds before alien gods

  Gods, who neither know nor

  wish to know that


We love,

Rubbing the nakednesses with gloved hands

Inverting our mouths in tongued kisses,

  Kisses that neither touch nor

  care to touch if


To a Husband

Your voice at times a fist

  Tight in your throat

Jabs ceaselessly at phantoms

  In the room,

Your hand a carved and

  skimming boat

Goes down the Nile

  To point out Pharoah's tomb.

You're Africa to me

  At brightest dawn.

The Congo's green and

  Copper's brackish hue,

A continent to build

  With Black Man's brawn.

I sit at home and see it all

  Through you.



  when you spread your pallet

of magic,

  I escaped.

sitting apart,

  I saw you grim and unkempt.

Your vulgar-ness

  not of living

your demands

  not from need.


  as you sprinkled your brain-dust

of rainbows,

  I had no eyes.

Seeing all

I saw the colors fade

and change.

  The blood, red dulled

through the dyes,

and the naked

Black-White truth.

Let's Majeste
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