1. “Phenomenal Woman” 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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
2. “Heart to Heart” by Rita Dove
It’s neither red
It doesn’t melt
or turn over,
break or harden,
so it can’t feel
It doesn’t have
a tip to spin on,
it isn’t even
just a thick clutch
I feel it inside
its cage sounding
a dull tattoo:
I want, I want—
but I can’t open it:
there’s no key.
I can’t wear it
on my sleeve,
or tell you from
the bottom of it
how I feel. Here,
it’s all yours, now—
but you’ll have
to take me,
3. “Boy, Did She Dance” by Danee Riggs
To African drums and hip-hop beats
Feet bare, she danced through city streets
On broken glass and bottle tops
Down through the centuries, non-stop
Over cobblestones and blades of grass
Suburbs and ghettos, discarded trash
From the ruins of ancient cities, to high rises on the east side
And throughout her journeys she laughed and she cried
Never once did she surrender her pride.
Passed pieces of her soul on down to her daughters
Cleansed each of her sons with her purified waters
And if you look closely you’ll see the lines on her face
While her body still moves with a youthful grace
And she danced ‘til salty tears stung her eyes
Trying to erase the horrors she’d witnessed in life
Her arms and legs moved in rhythm to cover
The pain from the hand of a bitter sweet lover
The loss of innocence, devastations inflicted
The wars that claimed those of her lineage enlisted
Boy, did she dance!
She danced the dance for all women
‘Cause she felt all of their pain
A performance beautiful and complex
And when nothing remained
But exhaustion, she did not drop to the floor
But rested her body, bruised now and sore
Yet still unbroken even through the birth of a nation
And though blessed with the privilege of mothering creation
She also had the wisdom to know when to lay
Until the sun rose again and she’d dance another day…
4. “And I Have You” by Nikki Giovanni
Rain has drops
Sun has shine
Moon has beams
That make you mine
Rivers have banks
Sands for shores
Hearts have heartbeats
That make me yours
Needles have eyes
Though pins may prick
Elmer has glue
To make things stick
Winter has Spring
Pepper has mint
To make it sweet
Teachers have lessons
Soup du jour
Lawyers sue bad folks
All and all
This much is true
You have me
And I have you
5. “Desire” by Alice walker
is always the same; wherever Life
I want to stick my toe
& soon my whole body
into the water.
I want to shake out a fat broom
& sweep dried leaves
I want to grow
It seems impossible that desire
can sometimes transform into devotion;
but this has happened.
And that is how I’ve survived:
how the hole
I carefully tended
in the garden of my heart
grew a heart
to fill it.
6. “Ode To Neptune” by Phillis Wheatley
Voyage to England
WHILE raging tempests shake the shore,
While AElus’ thunders round us roar,
And sweep impetuous o’er the plain
Be still, O tyrant of the main;
Nor let thy brow contracted frowns betray,
While my Susanna skims the wat’ry way.
The Pow’r propitious hears the lay,
The blue-ey’d daughters of the sea
With sweeter cadence glide along,
And Thames responsive joins the song.
Pleas’d with their notes Sol sheds benign his ray,
And double radiance decks the face of day.
To court thee to Britannia’s arms
Serene the climes and mild the sky,
Her region boasts unnumber’d charms,
Thy welcome smiles in ev’ry eye.
Thy promise, Neptune keep, record my pray’r,
Not give my wishes to the empty air.
7. “A Woman Speaks” by Andre Lorde
Moon marked and touched by sun
my magic is unwritten
but when the sea turns back
it will leave my shape behind.
I seek no favor
untouched by blood
unrelenting as the curse of love
permanent as my errors
or my pride
I do not mix
love with pity
nor hate with scorn
and if you would know me
look into the entrails of Uranus
where the restless oceans pound.
I do not dwell
within my birth nor my divinities
who am ageless and half-grown
and still seeking
witches in Dahomey
wear me inside their coiled cloths
as our mother did
I have been woman
for a long time
beware my smile
I am treacherous with old magic
and the noon’s new fury
with all your wide futures
and not white.
8. “Homage to My Hips” by Lucille Clifton
these hips are big hips.
they need space to
move around in.
they don’t fit into little
petty places. these hips
are free hips.
they don’t like to be held back.
these hips have never been enslaved,
they go where they want to go
they do what they want to do.
these hips are mighty hips.
these hips are magic hips.
i have known them
to put a spell on a man and
spin him like a top
9. “La Vie C’est La Vie” by Jessie Redmon Fauset
On summer afternoons I sit
Quiescent by you in the park,
And idly watch the sunbeams gild
And tint the ash-trees’ bark.
Or else I watch the squirrels frisk
And chaffer in the grassy lane;
And all the while I mark your voice
Breaking with love and pain.
I know a woman who would give
Her chance of heaven to take my place;
To see the love-light in your eyes,
The love-glow on your face!
And there’s a man whose lightest word
Can set my chilly blood afire;
Fulfilment of his least behest
Defines my life’s desire.
But he will none of me, Nor I
Of you. Nor you of her. ‘Tis said
The world is full of jests like these.–
I wish that I were dead.
10. “Conversation” by Ai Ogawa
We smile at each other
and I lean back against the wicker couch.
How does it feel to be dead? I say.
You touch my knees with your blue fingers.
And when you open your mouth,
a ball of yellow light falls to the floor
and burns a hole through it.
Don’t tell me, I say. I don’t want to hear.
Did you ever, you start,
wear a certain kind of dress
and just by accident,
so inconsequential you barely notice it,
your fingers graze that dress
and you hear the sound of a knife cutting paper,
you see it too
and you realize how that image
is simply the extension of another image,
that your own life
is a chain of words
that one day will snap.
Words, you say, young girls in a circle, holding hands,
and beginning to rise heavenward
in their confirmation dresses,
like white helium balloons,
the wreathes of flowers on their heads spinning,
and above all that,
that’s where I’m floating,
and that’s what it’s like
only ten times clearer,
ten times more horrible.
Could anyone alive survive it?
11. “Flounder” by Natasha Trethewey
Here, she said, put this on your head.
She handed me a hat.
you ’bout as white as your dad,
and you gone stay like that.
Aunt Sugar rolled her nylons down
around each bony ankle,
and I rolled down my white knee socks
letting my thin legs dangle,
circling them just above water
and silver backs of minnows
flitting here then there between
the sun spots and the shadows.
This is how you hold the pole
to cast the line out straight.
Now put that worm on your hook,
throw it out and wait.
She sat spitting tobacco juice
into a coffee cup.
Hunkered down when she felt the bite,
jerked the pole straight up
reeling and tugging hard at the fish
that wriggled and tried to fight back.
A flounder, she said, and you can tell
’cause one of its sides is black.
The other is white, she said.
It landed with a thump.
I stood there watching that fish flip-flop,
switch sides with every jump.
12. “UNTITLED” by Wanda Phipps
language is essentially
people are essentially
my hands and feet
are always colder
than the rest
of my body
all over his body
is very long
of the same
her pale toes
and i saw
the lawn sprinklers
13. “A Song in the Front Yard” by Gwendolyn Brooks
I’ve stayed in the front yard all my life.
I want a peek at the back
Where it’s rough and untended and hungry weed grows.
A girl gets sick of a rose.
I want to go in the back yard now
And maybe down the alley,
To where the charity children play.
I want a good time today.
They do some wonderful things.
They have some wonderful fun.
My mother sneers, but I say it’s fine
How they don’t have to go in at quarter to nine.
My mother, she tells me that Johnnie Mae
Will grow up to be a bad woman.
That George’ll be taken to Jail soon or late
(On account of last winter he sold our back gate).
But I say it’s fine. Honest, I do.
And I’d like to be a bad woman, too,
And wear the brave stockings of night-black lace
And strut down the streets with paint on my face.
14. “Black Woman” by Georgia Douglas Johnson
Don’t knock at the door, little child,
I cannot let you in,
You know not what a world this is
Of cruelty and sin.
Wait in the still eternity
Until I come to you,
The world is cruel, cruel, child,
I cannot let you in!
Don’t knock at my heart, little one,
I cannot bear the pain
Of turning deaf-ear to your call
Time and time again!
You do not know the monster men
Inhabiting the earth,
Be still, be still, my precious child,
I must not give you birth!