The Mask by Maya Angelou

We wear the mask that grins and lies.
It shades our cheeks and hides our eyes.
This debt we pay to human guile
With torn and bleeding hearts…
We smile and mouth the myriad subtleties.
Why should the world think otherwise
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 Oh Baby doll, now we sing…
The clay is vile beneath our feet
And long the mile
But let the world think otherwise.
We wear the mask.

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 HA! HA! I almos’ choke
When I think about myself.

Seventy years in these folks’ world
The child I works for calls me girl
I say “HA! HA! HA! Yes ma’am!”
For workin’s sake
I’m too proud to bend and
Too poor to break
So…I laugh! Until my stomach ache
When I think about myself.
My folks can make me split my side
I laugh so hard, HA! HA! I nearly died
The tales they tell sound just like lying
They grow the fruit but eat the rind.
Hmm huh! I laugh uhuh huh huh…
Until I start to cry when I think about myself
And my folks and the children.

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.

There in those pleated faces
I see the auction block
The chains and slavery’s coffles
The whip and lash and stock.

My fathers speak in voices
That shred my fact and sound
They say, but sugar, it was our submission
that made your world go round.

They laugh to conceal 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 an did derive
From living on the edge of death
They kept my race alive
By wearing the mask! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!


Black Lives Matter

8 thoughts on “The Mask by Maya Angelou

    1. It’s so powerful and important. There was an even better video of her performing it, in which she can’t help crying with the emotion, but WordPress or Youtube wouldn’t let me share. This new editor takes a bit of getting used to as well!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. The new editor is clunky. Especially since I’m doing it all from my phone. We dont have a desktop or laptop because Ben breaks things. Too much money to spend on something that might get shoved over, hit with a thrown toy, thrown across the room, stabbed…etc.
        No one seems to like this “great new editor”🙄

        Liked by 1 person

    1. It is so powerful. This poem was new to me, I must be honest, but I’m trying to learn more about racism at the moment with the terrible scenes going on in the US. It’s not enough to be non-racist, we have to anti-racist and call it out wherever and whenever we see it.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. Great poem! And sooo sad.
    I’m reading “Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in The Cafeteria “, by Beverly Daniel Tatum. It’s eye opening to say the least. Hard to see how bad it has been and for sooo long. Our family will be reading it together for a Zoom book club.
    Thanks for sharing Maya. I will look up more of her writings.

    Liked by 1 person

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