I was in 7th grade when I was first exposed to Dr. Angelou’s work. For most students, the first (and possibly only) work they read by her is I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings.
The first work I read by her was a poem: Phenomenal Woman.
This work came to me in a time where most teenagers are reaching that awkward stage. You aspire to look, and be the same as your peers, and when you can’t realize that aspiration, it becomes about you as opposed to society’s backwards thinking. You don’t know you can be a rebel.
We were preparing for the Black History Month program at school, and they wanted people to write and perform poems. I had a couple of pieces written, but my drama teacher brought me a new poem. I looked it over. I thought to myself, man, this is so good! But this is really long, can I do this? Do I even believe myself to be a phenomenal woman? What does that even mean?
My teacher sensed the skepticism. “You can do this. If I didn’t trust you to do this, I wouldn’t have brought it to you. Let the words marinate, and we’ll start practice tomorrow after lunch.”
I nodded, and took it home to read again.
Here it is, for those who haven’t read it:
Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s sizeBut 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 womanPhenomenally.Phenomenal woman,That’s me.
I walk into a roomJust as cool as you please,And to a man,The fellows stand orFall 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 womanPhenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,That’s me.
Men themselves have wonderedWhat they see in me.They try so muchBut they can’t touchMy 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 womanPhenomenally.Phenomenal woman,That’s me.
Now you understandJust why my head’s not bowed.I don’t shout or jump aboutOr 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 for my care.’Cause I’m a womanPhenomenally.Phenomenal woman,That’s me.
Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.