Among the many notable moments at Michael Jackson's funeral was Queen Latifah's reading of the Maya Angelou poem "We Had Him." The popular poetess wrote the poem specifically for the occasion (no easy task) and just that morning asked Latifah to perform it, which she did with spirit and elegance.
"We Had Him" is typical of Angelou's work: inspirational and accessible, confident, and deriving power from its rhythms and repetition. You probably know her popular poem "Phenomenal Woman," and might remember another occasional poem she wrote, "On the Pulse of the Morning," which she read at Bill Clinton's first inauguration.
Here's a transcript of "We Had Him" (I took a best guess at the line breaks--Angelou may have intended them to fall elsewhere):
Beloveds, now we know that we know nothing,
now that our bright and shining star can slip away from our fingertips
like a puff of summer wind.
Without notice, our dear love can escape our doting embrace.
Sing our songs among the stars and walk our dances across the face of the moon.
In the instant that Michael is gone, we know nothing. No clocks can tell time.
No oceans can rush our tides with the abrupt absence of our treasure.
Though we are many, each of us is achingly alone, piercingly alone.
Only when we confess our confusion can we remember
that he was a gift to us and we did have him.
He came to us from the creator, trailing creativity in abundance.
Despite the anguish, his life was sheathed in mother love, family love,
and survived and did more than that.
He thrived with passion and compassion, humor and style.
We had him whether we know who he was or did not know,
he was ours and we were his.
We had him, beautiful, delighting our eyes.
His hat, aslant over his brow, and took a pose on his toes for all of us.
And we laughed and stomped our feet for him.
We were enchanted with his passion because he held nothing.
He gave us all he had been given.
Today in Tokyo, beneath the Eiffel Tower, in Ghana's Black Star Square.
In Johannesburg and Pittsburgh, in Birmingham, Alabama, and Birmingham, England
We are missing Michael.
But we do know we had him, and we are the world.
The audience responded well to the poem. What do you think?
I find more poignancy in this quote from her book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings: "A bird doesn't sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song."
Michael didn't seem to have a lot of answers, but for all of his faults, he sang a powerful song.