An excerpt from Voices in the Air: Poems for Listeners by Naomi Shihab Nye.
“Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel…” — Maya Angelou
Maya loved the jingle of the massive key ring
carried by cable car conductors. First woman
in the San Francisco trolley uniform,
she liked the shiny buttons on the jacket,
appreciated the swoops and dips of the routes,
sharp curves, corners and bustling avenues.
Clinking coin dispenser latched to her belt,
she’d be a conductor all her life. Write, and talk,
take people everywhere, out of their tight little
And if anyone told her they were going
to Gloomy Street,
she’d say, What? Lift those eyes. Take a look at the
sea to your right, buildings full of mysteries, schools
crackling with joy, open porches,
watch the world whirl by,
all we are given without having to own, and shake
that gloom right out of your system!
Hope is the only drink you need
to be drinking—jingle, jingle, step right up.
On “Gratitude Pillow”
For so many of us, Dr. Maya Angelou was one of the most uplifting writers and speakers we will ever encounter. Even the sound of her melodious voice, always resonant and sure, gave a thrill to the spirit. Her commitment to human rights and justice, dignity, and optimism, for all people, was unwavering. To learn, from her obituary, a detail about her personal history—that she was also the first woman ever to work as a conductor on a San Francisco cable car when she was very young—seemed a perfect metaphor for her later life as writer and public speaker. What does a conductor do? A conductor helps everyone board, and find a seat, so the thing can MOVE. We need her moving power more than ever right now.
—Naomi Shihab Nye
Poem excerpted from the new book Voices in the Air: Poems for Listeners by Naomi Shihab Nye. Copyright 2018 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Reprinted with permission of Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Children’s Books.