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Phe·nom·e·nal | (adjective) : extraordinary

Updated: Apr 22, 2020

Phenomenal Woman

a poem by Maya Angelou


Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.

I'm not cute or built to suit a fashion model's size

But when I start to tell them,

They think I'm telling lies.

I say,

It's in the reach of my arms

The span of my hips,

The stride of my step,

The curl of my lips.

I'm a woman


Phenomenal woman,

That's me.

I walk into a room

Just as cool as you please,

And to a man,

The fellows stand or

Fall down on their knees.

Then they swarm around me,

A hive of honey bees.

I say,

It's the fire in my eyes,

And the flash of my teeth,

The swing in my waist,

And the joy in my feet.

I'm a woman


Phenomenal woman,

That's me.

Men themselves have wondered

What they see in me.

They try so much

But they can't touch

My inner mystery.

When I try to show them

They say they still can't see.

I say,

It's in the arch of my back,

The sun of my smile,

The ride of my breasts,

The grace of my style.

I'm a woman


Phenomenal woman,

That's me.

Now you understand

Just why my head's not bowed.

I don't shout or jump about

Or have to talk real loud.

When you see me passing

It ought to make you proud.

I say,

It's in the click of my heels,

The bend of my hair,

the palm of my hand,

The need of my care,

'Cause I'm a woman


Phenomenal woman,

That's me.

-Maya Angelou


Have you ever experienced something multiple times and each time it is as though it were the first? This poem is 'that something' for me. I remember being influenced by Maya Angelou when I was about 8 years old. My mother had recently resumed her custody of me as my legal guardian and I was finally able to watch R-Rated movies. Prior to then, I was usually only allowed to experience G-Rated entertainment and was told to close my eyes and cover my ears during intimate scenes when allowed to watch PG-13.

Poetic Justice is a 90s romance/drama film, starring iconic black artists Janet Jackson, Tupac Shakur, and the phenomenal woman herself, Maya Angelou. At the time, I hadn't known that 'Aunt June' was the author of the two poems featured in Poetic Justice, Phenomenal Woman and Alone. Both poems uplifted and inspired me in a way that no other texts ever had.

Poetry was unfamiliar to me, although I had been raised Christian. In all honesty, until the time my mother resumed custody of me, I read The Bible regularly and it was a bit of a relief to no longer to have to attend Bible studies (aside from a brief moment I attended a school called Detroit Urban Lutheran). All I ever learned, during Bible studies, was to fear God and to follow His Ten Commandments or else I would burn in hell forever. I was completely unaware of the beautiful poetry within The Bible so when I experienced such powerful words while watching Poetic Justice I was merely captivated.

I do not recall when or how I came across Maya Angelou's first autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings exactly. I was either in the third or fourth grade. While Black History was recognized and even touched on lightly within the Detroit Public School system, I learned more about the history of my culture within Maya's story (and watching Roots). I also learned about sexual abuse, which was not taught or even talked about at school - or at home for that matter. Until reading Maya's story, I was unaware that my mother's boyfriend -eventually husband- was touching me inappropriately. Instinctively, I did not think it was right since it only occurred when my mother was not home. I did not like it, yet I was both curious and confused and did not know how to make it stop, let alone speak up.

What I did know was that my life had already been pretty traumatic as a child and that, in fact, I was that little caged bird. Maya Angelou gave me hope, however, and I knew in my heart that somehow, someway, someday I would rise up above my circumstances just as she had. In movies and in writings, both fiction and non-fiction, Maya Angelou has taught me many things about myself and the world I live I live in.


Aunt June: I want to talk to you about morals. The morals of young people today. It's going to get them in big trouble. I'm telling you because they act like they don't know the difference between right and wrong. And this is the truth. And see, one of the reasons is their parents. The parents are not taking care of their children. They are not telling them the difference between right and wrong. But then part...

Aunt May, Aunt April: [both roll their eyes and turn to leave]

Aunt June: Wait, now. No, no, no. No, ma'am. You have to listen. Because part of the responsibility is the children's because this is their lives. It's not their mama's or their papa's. I'm telling you, they have to think for themselves. Even if their mama and papa didn't do something about them. Girl, look, the children have to think and try their best to come on up, come on up.


Who do you hold responsible for your choices in life, yourself, or the people who raised you?

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