Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

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definitions & notes only words
  1. angel dust
    a drug used as an anesthetic by veterinarians
    Just thinking about it made me go around with angel's dust sprinkled over my face for days.
  2. renege
    fail to fulfill a promise or obligation
    Years later I discovered that the United States had been crossed thousands of times by frightened Black children traveling alone to their newly affluent parents in Northern cities, or back to grandmothers in Southern towns when the urban North reneged on its economic promises.
  3. boll
    the rounded seed-bearing capsule of a cotton or flax plant
    If he prophesied that the cotton in today's field was going to be sparse and stick to the bolls like glue, every listener would grunt a hearty agreement.
  4. cotton gin
    a machine that separates the seeds from raw cotton fibers
    Early in the century, Momma (we soon stopped calling her Grandmother) sold lunches to the sawmen in the lumberyard (east Stamps) and the seedmen at the cotton gin (west Stamps).
  5. Easter Day
    the day on which the festival of Easter is celebrated
    She whispered, "I just come to tell you, it's Easter Day." I repeated, jamming the words together, "Ijustcometotellyouit'sEasterDay," as low as possible.
  6. hypnotize
    induce a state that resembles sleep in
    My light-blue eyes were going to hypnotize them, after all the things they said about "my daddy must of been a Chinaman" (I thought they meant made out of china, like a cup) because my eyes were so small and squinty.
  7. segregate
    divide from the main body or mass and collect
    I don't remember much of the trip, but after we reached the segregated southern part of the journey, things must have looked up.
  8. giggle
    laugh nervously
    The children's section of the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church was wiggling and giggling over my well-known forgetfulness.
  9. persimmon
    any of several tropical trees of the genus Diospyros
    I stumbled and started to say something, or maybe to scream, but a green persimmon, or it could have been a lemon, caught me between the legs and squeezed.
  10. light bulb
    electric lamp consisting of a transparent or translucent glass housing containing a wire filament (usually tungsten) that emits light when heated by electricity
    Customers could find food staples, a good variety of colored thread, mash for hogs, corn for chickens, coal oil for lamps, light bulbs for the wealthy, shoestrings, hair dressing, balloons, and flower seeds.
  11. store
    a mercantile establishment for the sale of goods or services
    We lived with our grandmother and uncle in the rear of the Store (it was always spoken of with a capital s), which she had owned some twenty-five years.
  12. wiggle
    move to and fro
    The children's section of the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church was wiggling and giggling over my well-known forgetfulness.
  13. paranoia
    a mental disorder characterized by delusions of persecution
    In later years I was to confront the stereotyped picture of gay song-singing cotton pickers with such inordinate rage that I was told even by fellow Blacks that my paranoia was embarrassing.
  14. cash register
    a cashbox with an adding machine to register transactions
    The sound of the empty cotton sacks dragging over the floor and the murmurs of waking people were sliced by the cash register as we rang up the five-cent sales.
  15. watermelon
    large oblong or roundish melon with a hard green rind and sweet watery red or occasionally yellowish pulp
    I tried to hold, to squeeze it back, to keep it from speeding, but when I reached the church porch I knew I'd have to let it go, or it would probably run right back up to my head and my poor head would burst like a dropped watermelon, and all the brains and spit and tongue and eyes would roll all over the place.
  16. sparse
    not dense
    If he prophesied that the cotton in today's field was going to be sparse and stick to the bolls like glue, every listener would grunt a hearty agreement.
  17. sardine
    small fishes found in great schools along coasts of Europe
    "Sister, I'll have two cans of sardines."
  18. troubadour
    a singer of folk songs
    On Saturdays, barbers sat their customers in the shade on the porch of the Store, and troubadours on their ceaseless crawlings through the South leaned across its benches and sang their sad songs of The Brazos while they played juice harps and cigarbox guitars.
  19. wince
    draw back, as with fear or pain
    I winced to picture them sewing the coarse material under a coal-oil lamp with fingers stiffening from the day's work.
  20. stereotype
    a conventional or formulaic conception or image
    In later years I was to confront the stereotyped picture of gay song-singing cotton pickers with such inordinate rage that I was told even by fellow Blacks that my paranoia was embarrassing.
  21. displacement
    to move something from its natural environment
    If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat.
  22. snout
    a long projecting or anterior elongation of an animal's head
    Then they would understand why I had never picked up a Southern accent, or spoke the common slang, and why I had to be forced to eat pigs' tails and snouts.
  23. react
    show a response to something
    The town reacted to us as its inhabitants had reacted to all things new before our coming.
  24. kerosene
    a flammable hydrocarbon oil used as fuel in lamps and heaters
    The odors of onions and oranges and kerosene had been mixing all night and wouldn't be disturbed until the wooded slat was removed from the door and the early morning air forced its way in with the bodies of people who had walked miles to reach the pickup place.
  25. pickup
    the act or process of picking up or collecting from various places
    The odors of onions and oranges and kerosene had been mixing all night and wouldn't be disturbed until the wooded slat was removed from the door and the early morning air forced its way in with the bodies of people who had walked miles to reach the pickup place.
  26. inordinate
    beyond normal limits
    In later years I was to confront the stereotyped picture of gay song-singing cotton pickers with such inordinate rage that I was told even by fellow Blacks that my paranoia was embarrassing.
  27. musty
    covered with or smelling of mold
    Chapter 1 When I was three and Bailey four, we had arrived in the musty little town, wearing tags on our wrists which instructed--"To Whom It May Concern"--that we were Marguerite and Bailey Johnson Jr., from Long Beach, California, en route to Stamps, Arkansas, c/o Mrs. Annie Henderson.
  28. Easter
    a Christian celebration of the Resurrection of Christ
    But Easter's early morning sun had shown the dress to be a plain ugly cut-down from a white woman's once-was-purple throwaway.
  29. liberate
    grant freedom to; free from confinement
    I laughed anyway, partially for the sweet release; still, the greater joy came not only from being liberated from the silly church but from the knowledge that I wouldn't die from a busted head.
  30. immaterial
    lacking importance; not mattering one way or the other
    Whether I could remember the rest of the poem or not was immaterial.
  31. Episcopal Church
    United States church that is in communication with the see of Canterbury
    The children's section of the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church was wiggling and giggling over my well-known forgetfulness.
  32. ruffle
    stir up (water) so as to form ripples
    As I'd watched Momma put ruffles on the hem and cute little tucks around the waist, I knew that once I put it on I'd look like a movie star.
  33. caterpillar
    a wormlike and often hairy larva of a moth or butterfly
    Each year I watched the field across from the Store turn caterpillar green, then gradually frosty white.
  34. affluent
    having an abundant supply of money or possessions of value
    Years later I discovered that the United States had been crossed thousands of times by frightened Black children traveling alone to their newly affluent parents in Northern cities, or back to grandmothers in Southern towns when the urban North reneged on its economic promises.
  35. sprinkle
    scatter with liquid; wet lightly
    Just thinking about it made me go around with angel's dust sprinkled over my face for days.
  36. stumble
    miss a step and fall or nearly fall
    I stumbled and started to say something, or maybe to scream, but a green persimmon, or it could have been a lemon, caught me between the legs and squeezed.
  37. rustle
    make a dry crackling sound
    The dress I wore was lavender taffeta, and each time I breathed it rustled, and now that I was sucking in air to breathe out shame it sounded like crepe paper on the back of hearses.
  38. slang
    informal language that is inappropriate for formal occasions
    Then they would understand why I had never picked up a Southern accent, or spoke the common slang, and why I had to be forced to eat pigs' tails and snouts.
  39. commissary
    a retail store that sells equipment and provisions
    Their wages wouldn't even get them out of debt to my grandmother, not to mention the staggering bill that waited on them at the white commissary downtown.
  40. ceaseless
    uninterrupted in time and indefinitely long continuing
    On Saturdays, barbers sat their customers in the shade on the porch of the Store, and troubadours on their ceaseless crawlings through the South leaned across its benches and sang their sad songs of The Brazos while they played juice harps and cigarbox guitars.
  41. liberated
    free from traditional social restraints
    I laughed anyway, partially for the sweet release; still, the greater joy came not only from being liberated from the silly church but from the knowledge that I wouldn't die from a busted head.
  42. staple
    material suitable for manufacture or use or finishing
    Customers could find food staples, a good variety of colored thread, mash for hogs, corn for chickens, coal oil for lamps, light bulbs for the wealthy, shoestrings, hair dressing, balloons, and flower seeds.
  43. prophesy
    predict or reveal, as if through divine inspiration
    If he prophesied that the cotton in today's field was going to be sparse and stick to the bolls like glue, every listener would grunt a hearty agreement.
  44. Negro
    a person with dark skin who comes from Africa
    Because I was really white and because a cruel fairy stepmother, who was understandably jealous of my beauty, had turned me into a too-big Negro girl, with nappy black hair, broad feet and a space between her teeth that would hold a number-two pencil.
  45. guitar
    a stringed instrument usually having six strings
    On Saturdays, barbers sat their customers in the shade on the porch of the Store, and troubadours on their ceaseless crawlings through the South leaned across its benches and sang their sad songs of The Brazos while they played juice harps and cigarbox guitars.
  46. Episcopal
    of or pertaining to or characteristic of the Episcopal church
    The children's section of the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church was wiggling and giggling over my well-known forgetfulness.
  47. sting
    deliver a sudden pain to
    Then before I reached the door, the sting was burning down my legs and into my Sunday socks.
  48. mobile
    moving or capable of moving readily
    From being a mobile lunch counter, she set up a stand between the two points of fiscal interest and supplied the workers' needs for a few years.
  49. harp
    a chordophone with strings between the neck and the soundbox
    On Saturdays, barbers sat their customers in the shade on the porch of the Store, and troubadours on their ceaseless crawlings through the South leaned across its benches and sang their sad songs of The Brazos while they played juice harps and cigarbox guitars.
  50. Methodist
    a follower of Wesleyanism as practiced by the Methodist Church
    The children's section of the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church was wiggling and giggling over my well-known forgetfulness.
  51. aisle
    a long narrow passage (as in a cave or woods)
    Halfway down the aisle, the church exploded with "Were you there when they crucified my Lord?" and I tripped over a foot stuck out from the children's pew.
  52. overall
    including everything
    The greasy brown paper sack was stuck behind the bib of his overalls.
  53. dusty
    covered with a layer of fine powdery material
    The sounds of the new morning had been replaced with grumbles about cheating houses, weighted scales, snakes, skimpy cotton and dusty rows.
  54. urban
    relating to a city or densely populated area
    Years later I discovered that the United States had been crossed thousands of times by frightened Black children traveling alone to their newly affluent parents in Northern cities, or back to grandmothers in Southern towns when the urban North reneged on its economic promises.
  55. fiscal
    involving financial matters
    From being a mobile lunch counter, she set up a stand between the two points of fiscal interest and supplied the workers' needs for a few years.
  56. wake
    stop sleeping
    Wouldn't they be surprised when one day I woke out of my black ugly dream, and my real hair, which was long and blond, would take the place of the kinky mass that Momma wouldn't let me straighten?
  57. replace
    put something back where it belongs
    The sounds of the new morning had been replaced with grumbles about cheating houses, weighted scales, snakes, skimpy cotton and dusty rows.
  58. register
    an official written record of names or events
    The sound of the empty cotton sacks dragging over the floor and the murmurs of waking people were sliced by the cash register as we rang up the five-cent sales.
  59. empty
    holding or containing nothing
    The sound of the empty cotton sacks dragging over the floor and the murmurs of waking people were sliced by the cash register as we rang up the five-cent sales.
  60. hearty
    showing warm and sincere friendliness
    If he prophesied that the cotton in today's field was going to be sparse and stick to the bolls like glue, every listener would grunt a hearty agreement.
  61. plantation
    an estate where cash crops are grown on a large scale
    I knew exactly how long it would be before the big wagons would pull into the front yard and load on the cotton pickers at daybreak to carry them to the remains of slavery's plantations.
  62. lean
    incline or bend from a vertical position
    The minister's wife leaned toward me, her long yellow face full of sorry.
  63. confront
    oppose, as in hostility or a competition
    In later years I was to confront the stereotyped picture of gay song-singing cotton pickers with such inordinate rage that I was told even by fellow Blacks that my paranoia was embarrassing.
  64. caution
    judiciousness in avoiding harm or danger
    It regarded us a while without curiosity but with caution, and after we were seen to be harmless (and children) it closed in around us, as a real mother embraces a stranger's child.
  65. embrace
    squeeze tightly in your arms, usually with fondness
    It regarded us a while without curiosity but with caution, and after we were seen to be harmless (and children) it closed in around us, as a real mother embraces a stranger's child.
  66. whisper
    speaking softly without vibration of the vocal cords
    She whispered, "I just come to tell you, it's Easter Day." I repeated, jamming the words together, "Ijustcometotellyouit'sEasterDay," as low as possible.
  67. wealthy
    having an abundant supply of money or possessions of value
    Customers could find food staples, a good variety of colored thread, mash for hogs, corn for chickens, coal oil for lamps, light bulbs for the wealthy, shoestrings, hair dressing, balloons, and flower seeds.
  68. yard
    enclosed land around a house or other building
    So I ran down into the yard and let it go.
  69. formal
    in accord with established conventions and requirements
    The formal name of the Store was the Wm. Johnson General Merchandise Store.
  70. instruct
    impart skills or knowledge to
    Chapter 1 When I was three and Bailey four, we had arrived in the musty little town, wearing tags on our wrists which instructed--"To Whom It May Concern"--that we were Marguerite and Bailey Johnson Jr., from Long Beach, California, en route to Stamps, Arkansas, c/o Mrs. Annie Henderson.
  71. release
    grant freedom to; free from confinement
    I laughed anyway, partially for the sweet release; still, the greater joy came not only from being liberated from the silly church but from the knowledge that I wouldn't die from a busted head.
  72. wages
    a recompense for worthy acts or retribution for wrongdoing
    Their wages wouldn't even get them out of debt to my grandmother, not to mention the staggering bill that waited on them at the white commissary downtown.
  73. welfare
    something that aids or promotes well-being
    A porter had been charged with our welfare--he got off the train the next day in Arizona--and our tickets were pinned to my brother's inside coat pocket.
  74. champion
    someone who has won first place in a competition
    The champion picker of the day before was the hero of the dawn.
  75. normal
    being approximately average or within certain limits
    If the morning sounds and smells were touched with the supernatural, the late afternoon had all the features of the normal Arkansas life.
  76. melt
    reduce or cause to be reduced from a solid to a liquid state
    The giggles hung in the air like melting clouds that were waiting to rain on me.
  77. boast
    show off
    In those tender mornings the Store was full of laughing, joking, boasting and bragging.
  78. wagon
    a wheeled vehicle drawn by an animal or a tractor
    I knew exactly how long it would be before the big wagons would pull into the front yard and load on the cotton pickers at daybreak to carry them to the remains of slavery's plantations.
  79. remove
    take something away as by lifting, pushing, or taking off
    The odors of onions and oranges and kerosene had been mixing all night and wouldn't be disturbed until the wooded slat was removed from the door and the early morning air forced its way in with the bodies of people who had walked miles to reach the pickup place.
  80. arrive
    reach a destination
    Chapter 1 When I was three and Bailey four, we had arrived in the musty little town, wearing tags on our wrists which instructed--"To Whom It May Concern"--that we were Marguerite and Bailey Johnson Jr., from Long Beach, California, en route to Stamps, Arkansas, c/o Mrs. Annie Henderson.
  81. sustain
    lengthen or extend in duration or space
    Without the money or credit necessary to sustain a family for three months.
  82. route
    an established line of travel or access
    Chapter 1 When I was three and Bailey four, we had arrived in the musty little town, wearing tags on our wrists which instructed--"To Whom It May Concern"--that we were Marguerite and Bailey Johnson Jr., from Long Beach, California, en route to Stamps, Arkansas, c/o Mrs. Annie Henderson.
  83. repair
    fix by putting together what is torn or broken
    Some of the workers would leave their sacks at the Store to be picked up the following morning, but a few had to take them home for repairs.
  84. visible
    capable of being seen or open to easy view
    Anything not visible had only to be ordered.
  85. resist
    withstand the force of something
    But I had seen the fingers cut by the mean little cotton bolls, and I had witnessed the backs and shoulders and arms and legs resisting any further demands.
  86. scale
    an ordered reference standard
    The sounds of the new morning had been replaced with grumbles about cheating houses, weighted scales, snakes, skimpy cotton and dusty rows.
  87. singing
    the act of singing vocal music
    In later years I was to confront the stereotyped picture of gay song- singing cotton pickers with such inordinate rage that I was told even by fellow Blacks that my paranoia was embarrassing.
  88. dawn
    the first light of day
    The champion picker of the day before was the hero of the dawn.
  89. ability
    having the means or skills to do something
    Her crisp meat pies and cool lemonade, when joined to her miraculous ability to be in two places at the same time, assured her business success.
  90. tender
    easy to cut or chew
    In those tender mornings the Store was full of laughing, joking, boasting and bragging.
  91. removed
    separate or apart in time
    The odors of onions and oranges and kerosene had been mixing all night and wouldn't be disturbed until the wooded slat was removed from the door and the early morning air forced its way in with the bodies of people who had walked miles to reach the pickup place.
  92. aware
    having or showing knowledge or understanding or realization
    If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat.
  93. poem
    a composition in metrical feet forming rhythmical lines
    Whether I could remember the rest of the poem or not was immaterial.
  94. section
    one of several parts or pieces that fit with others
    The children's section of the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church was wiggling and giggling over my well-known forgetfulness.
  95. familiar
    a friend who is frequently in the company of another
    Until we became familiar enough to belong to the Store and it to us, we were locked up in a Fun House of Things where the attendant had gone home for life.
  96. reveal
    make visible
    In cotton-picking time the late afternoons revealed the harshness of Black Southern life, which in the early morning had been softened by nature's blessing of grogginess, forgetfulness and the soft lamplight.
  97. alarm
    a device signaling the occurrence of some undesirable event
    During the picking season my grandmother would get out of bed at four o'clock (she never used an alarm clock) and creak down to her knees and chant in a sleep-filled voice, "Our Father, thank you for letting me see this New Day. Thank you that you didn't allow the bed I lay on last night to be my cooling board, nor my blanket my winding sheet.
  98. couple
    two items of the same kind
    "Just gimme a couple them fat peanut paddies."
  99. burst
    come open suddenly and violently
    I tried to hold, to squeeze it back, to keep it from speeding, but when I reached the church porch I knew I'd have to let it go, or it would probably run right back up to my head and my poor head would burst like a dropped watermelon, and all the brains and spit and tongue and eyes would roll all over the place.
  100. economic
    of or relating to production and management of wealth
    Years later I discovered that the United States had been crossed thousands of times by frightened Black children traveling alone to their newly affluent parents in Northern cities, or back to grandmothers in Southern towns when the urban North reneged on its economic promises.
  101. credit
    an estimate of ability to fulfill financial commitments
    Without the money or credit necessary to sustain a family for three months.
  102. center
    an area that is in the middle of some larger region
    Over the years it became the lay center of activities in town.
  103. repeated
    recurring again and again
    She whispered, "I just come to tell you, it's Easter Day." I repeated, jamming the words together, "Ijustcometotellyouit'sEasterDay," as low as possible.
  104. area
    the extent of a two-dimensional surface within a boundary
    Then she had the Store built in the heart of the Negro area.
  105. machine
    a mechanical or electrical device that transmits energy
    Hanging softly over the black Singer sewing machine, it looked like magic, and when people saw me wearing it they were going to run up to me and say, "Marguerite [sometimes it was 'dear Marguerite'], forgive us, please, we didn't know who you were," and I would answer generously, "No, you couldn't have known.
  106. brain
    the center of the nervous system
    I tried to hold, to squeeze it back, to keep it from speeding, but when I reached the church porch I knew I'd have to let it go, or it would probably run right back up to my head and my poor head would burst like a dropped watermelon, and all the brains and spit and tongue and eyes would roll all over the place.
  107. narrow
    not wide
    Guide my feet this day along the straight and narrow, and help me to put a bridle on my tongue.
  108. broad
    having great extent from one side to the other
    Because I was really white and because a cruel fairy stepmother, who was understandably jealous of my beauty, had turned me into a too-big Negro girl, with nappy black hair, broad feet and a space between her teeth that would hold a number-two pencil.
  109. feature
    a prominent attribute or aspect of something
    If the morning sounds and smells were touched with the supernatural, the late afternoon had all the features of the normal Arkansas life.
  110. surprise
    come upon or take unawares
    Wouldn't they be surprised when one day I woke out of my black ugly dream, and my real hair, which was long and blond, would take the place of the kinky mass that Momma wouldn't let me straighten?
  111. journey
    the act of traveling from one place to another
    I don't remember much of the trip, but after we reached the segregated southern part of the journey, things must have looked up.
  112. capital
    a large alphabetic character used in writing or printing
    We lived with our grandmother and uncle in the rear of the Store (it was always spoken of with a capital s), which she had owned some twenty-five years.
  113. straight
    having no deviations
    Guide my feet this day along the straight and narrow, and help me to put a bridle on my tongue.
  114. issue
    some situation or event that is thought about
    Before she had quite arisen, she called our names and issued orders, and pushed her large feet into homemade slippers and across the bare Iye-washed wooden floor to light the coal-oil lamp.

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