Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Time To Feed One's Soul...

Once baby A is safely tucked up in bed and the dishes have been washed, maybe a dvd watched, all I really long to do is jump into a good book. Maybe I would choose one of the classics or a piece of literature that will change the way I view life forever (ambitious expectations I know...). But I find it hard to read sometimes, even harder to form opinions or to be transported away from this world for a while. While I find that keeping busy and doing lots of creative pursuits seems to keep the anxiety and sheer terror of having cancer at bay, I realise that it will often creep up on you, inhabiting your mind, sometimes hijacking your thoughts when you least expect it. It might be the cause of the insomnia that you experience at 4am in the morning, when all around you sleeps, oblivious to the turmoil that churns away within your head. Other times, it's a memory of a time when you thought life would always be  easy. Or an overwhelming feeling of sadness that hits you when you hear a moving piece of music or see a photograph.

How do we overcome these feelings and allow ourselves to move on to a place where our emotions are no longer being held prisoner ?  Well, I think poetry might be a good place to start. To me, it's an intense, compressed version of a novel. Or maybe it's a brief but dense expression of emotion that might tell me why I feel so numb sometimes when I'm having to deal with doctors and other health professionals. I came across this on O (Oprah Winfrey's) magazine's website. It succeeded in making me want to pick up an anthology of poetry and start rediscovering old works. I was so taken by this feature, that I looked up Oprah's favourite poem. It's Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou. I first read this poem as a teenager, when I first began to discover literature by black female writers.

Phenomenal Woman - 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 of 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.


  1. Hi Coral, I saw your blog link on bcc and wanted to wish you luck for your treatment, as well as in your quest for a decent wig! I adore Maya Angelou and this poem is one of my favourites, have you read her autobiography? It's amazing. I'll be following you with the blog now, and will pass it on as I think it's inspiring. Another interesting book by the way is Illness as Metaphor by Susan Sontag. It's about the aggressive language used to approach illness, and how it's often not helpful. Much love, Lynne

  2. thanks for your comments Lynne and welcome to my blog ! I used to read lots of books by Maya Angelou - she was a big part of my teenage years and is still an inspiration to me now. I've heard of the Sontag book but have never read it. I thought about buying it on amazon recently - as well as The Cancer Diaries by Audre Lorde - an African American poet who had breast cancer in the 70s but refused treatment. I'm still on the lookout for a decent afro wig - will keep you updated !!

    All the best, Cx