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Phenomenal Women

Updated: Apr 15, 2021

In early March I offered this video of Maya Angelou reading her poem "Phenomenal Woman" as a writing prompt to celebrate International Women's Day. We wrote for 20 minutes. We had a small group in our "Writing from the Heart" workshop that day, and each woman present graciously agreed to allow me to share her writing based on the prompt.

In honor of Mother's Day and of phenomenal women everywhere who are working, caring for and teaching children, navigating life changes wrought by the virus, and somehow still reaching toward their dreams, I present the writing of Joan Delcoco, Shayne Johnson, Holly Peterson, and Erin Scranton, in alphabetical order. Thanks for reading, and Happy Mother's Day!


—Joan Delcoco—

She is a

Phenomenal woman. We all are, of course,

just as the poet tells us.

But how did she come to know that,

to own that, I wonder?

How did she intuit her own shining essence,

though she was raised up

amidst such adversity?

How does one women know her power,

celebrate it, proclaim it to the world?

While others, no less wondrous,

feel the opposite of


Invisible, small, damaged, negated


Women who feel not-enough

Think themselves alone in their


defined by scarcity

mired in want

Imprisoned in silos of isolation

that deepen

their pain.

But not-enoughness is epidemic

Women wage war with their bodies

Rather than take pride

in the wonders of their forms

Girls think they take up

too much space,

starve themselves to erase

the span of a hip, the thickening of a thigh

What puts the joy in her feet?

I need to know.

Can we tap it, bottle this elixir

to infuse hope in the


Can the poet’s abundance


those who are adrift,

untethered to self or others,

cut off from the life force that’s

so free-flowing in some?

Oh my angel

I am so consumed by your pain,

that I’ve lost touch with my own joy,

my connection to the earth,

my own life force.

Now more than ever,

I need to feel it,

cultivate it, reclaim it.

I am nothing,

I am worth nothing to you,

to me, or anyone,

if I forsake my inner mystery.

When I am lacking, the poet’s words

and all of you

remind me that

joy is possible;

that our spirits can move us

through darkness,

our minds can create the world

we want to inhabit.

I look to all of you,

you Phenomenal women

here with me now,

to replenish the wellspring

that’s run dry.


—Shayne Johnson—

“A woman can do anything that a man can do” was a quote I often heard growing up. How funny that sounds to me now. An encouragement to girls do something that had not been done before. But what is now clear to me is that women have been doing what men do for a very long time.

Women have dressed up, shown up and stood up like men.

We have proven mathematical theorems, discovered stars and blazed pathways in medicine.

We have been behind, below, and beside men in all endeavors.

We have farmed the fields, built the cars, and laid the cables.

We have led the marches, the walkouts, the sit-ins, the prayers and the petitions.

We don’t need permission to do the things we are already doing. If we wait for permission, it won’t be given. We also can’t wait for acknowledgement, it may not come. We can’t wait for an invitation or a saved seat.

We have to charge in and make space on our own. Elbow our way into the room, the board, the club, the school, and the company and take a seat. Act like we belong because we do.


—Holly Peterson—

Unexpected richness

the taste of dark chocolate cake layered with ribbons of custard

Just set, just so.

Unexplained ripeness

the tang of zesty lemons

the scent of perfect peaches

Heady perfume, just luscious.

Unsuspected and yet we knew

we recognized the effervescence, the sparkle, the drive

the overcoming, the coming home.


she shines forth, she sings, she proclaims electrically.

Her light includes all of us—just right.

Gather us together

collect, bring in

under one sky—under one cloudless cobalt blue sphere.

All the women standing tall

taking up their space, just claiming space

claiming their just space.

Now You Understand

—Erin Scranton—

Every breath carries the weight of years,

Adrift on morning breezes,

Whispering prayers of earth and rain,

Into the darkened soil,

Where souls of creatures regain their small lives,

Rising in the dusk,

Searching for the gift of tomorrow.

Memories grow in tiny buds,

Clinging to fragile branches

On trees whose roots push down,

Past a history of seasons longer than written word,

Tears warm the soil,

Under a blanket of leaves,

Broken and weather-worn,

Where insect eggs glow,

And rise like the new moon.

Take these words,

Plant them when the time is right,

In nearby fields,

Where grasses grow wild.

Let the ghosts understand,

I am one of them now.

Together, we’ll rise into night skies,

Souls finding the currents of air,

Pushing us further and further away.

Only then will I whisper—

Every day is a good-bye.

Now you understand.

Erin actually met Maya Angelou! "[This is] a photo from many years ago, when I had the chance to meet Ms. Angelou in Atlanta. I was fresh out of college, and as you can imagine—my mind was blown. She actually pulled me over next to her so that the photographer would take our photo. It's a day I'll never forget."

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