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!
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
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
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.
“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.
the taste of dark chocolate cake layered with ribbons of custard
Just set, just so.
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
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."