The Them Gone
I had not been home since her funeral
Her husband, my father, alone for seven months
was already dating and that Fathers’ Day weekend
he was overexcited
asking me ten times what he should cook.
As if he had not cooked for me a million times before:
when he had the night shift, undertook the domestic
with varying degrees of palatable
not like her cuisine, always manna:
his liver, bacon, onions,
ketchup for everything, steak-blood gravies
spurred me to cook at 12.
As if he had to do anything.
But this was our first time alone together
our first time without mommy
just out of ear shot, at her sewing machine
shopping in the city, on her way
she, whom I only grudgingly shared.
She was the one I wanted to remain.
Maybe he was afraid of me, their first experiment. He was Igor without his scientist, the one who kept control
and knew all the formulas for regeneration. So lonely here, he said he could feel her sometimes.
He was the sudden widower with “those damn bitches
who didn’t wait till she was cold in the grave before calling”
a wacky misstatement since she was cremated
not what she wanted
but who could argue
with this wild man ripped from his moorings
bereft of his beloved after 44 faithful years
of growing, settling, nurturing the kind of passion
that made old boyfriends bring their new women
to witness the unbelievable tender of their joy:
rubbing her hurt feet unashamedly in public.
Songs he could no longer sing to her or us
my blue heaven, when I move on the outskirts of town
words he would no longer say: moosh, moosh, moosh, Hopie, dahlink her name his happy shout up the stairs: HOPE.
Retired from his steep 35-year ascent
in this small Queens A-frame house she never wanted
but made home, with brilliant buys gathered one by one
the mirrored oak armoire, those plush gold
velvet high-back chairs.
Left with their first hatchling on Fathers’ Day
who broke their wedded bliss into family
who as a teen pecked his super hero shell to see
suddenly just a man, a father, next time I’ll have wombats
and like Twain, I rethink him brilliant again.
Facing him in bright glare of kitchen light
feeling the enormity of his loss of the love of his life
his best friend, companion, beloved wife
something I have yet to have and hold.
Learning what was her, what was him, what was
us, what was them.
My own gut whacking yawp of mother-robbed grief swallowed shut as together we
chopped the onions
found tamari to marinate the fish
shredded Boston bibb, grated ginger, c
touched all her spices, made a meal.
A third generation New Yorker, firstborn, Akua Lezli Hope has won two Artists Fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts, a Ragdale U.S.-Africa Fellowship, and a Creative Writing Fellowship from The National Endowment for The Arts. She’s won scholarships for the Hurston Wright writers’ program and the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center. She is a Cave Canem fellow. She received an Artists Crossroads Grant from The Arts of the Southern Finger Lakes for her project “Words in Motion,” which placed poetry on the buses of New York’s Chemung and Steuben counties. She was the guest poet at the Steele Memorial Library’s 2003 Festival. UNPACKING, her collaboration with dancer choreographer, Lois Welk, was presented in 2003 at 171 Cedar Arts Center. She was a poet-in-residence at the Chautauqua Institute where she read her poetry, lectured on jazz poetry, and conducted a workshop entitled “Writing Poetry as Mythmaking.”
Her poem “Metis Emits” won the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s short poem award for 2015. Her first collection, EMBOUCHURE, Poems on Jazz and Other Musics, won the Writer’s Digest book award for poetry. Her poems, Montserrat and AwaIting Your Return (for Jamal Kashoggi) were nominated for a 2019 Pushcart Prize. Her manuscript, Them Gone, a finalist in the 2015 Word Works Washington Prize competition, was selected for Red Paint Hill Publishing’s Bryant Lysembee Editor’s Prize and published in December, 2018 by The Word Works.
She is published in numerous literary magazines and national anthologies including: 50 over 50, Minerva Rising, Strange Horizons, Eye to the Telescope, Breath and Shadow, The Crafty Poet II, The Cossack Review, Silver Blade, Tiny Text, The 100 Best African American Poems (2010); Killens Review, Breath and Shadow, Stone Canoe, Three Coyotes, The Year’s Best Writing, Writer’s Digest Guides, 2003; DARK MATTER, (the first!) anthology of African American Science Fiction, Time Warner Books, 2000; THE BLUELIGHT CORNER, black women writing on passion, sex, and romantic love, Three Rivers Press, 1999; Will Work For Peace: New Political Poems, 1999; MASKS, Earth’s Daughters 52, 1998; CHAIN, 1995; SISTERFIRE, an anthology of Black Womanist Fiction and Poetry, ed. by Charlotte Watson-Sherman, HarperPerennial, 1994; WHAT IS FOUND THERE, NOTEBOOKS ON POETRY AND POLITICS by Adrienne Rich, W.W. Norton, 1993; WRITING FROM THE NEW COAST: TECHNIQUE, Buffalo University, 1993; EROTIQUE NOIRE, (the first!) AN ANTHOLOGY OF BLACK EROTICA, Doubleday/Anchor, 1992; POETS MARKET, 1992, ed. by Judson Jerome, Writers Digest Books; CONFIRMATION, an anthology of Afrikan American Women Writers, 1983; EXTENDED OUTLOOKS, the Iowa Review Collection of Contemporary Women Writers, 1983; and Eyeball, 1995; Obsidian II, 1996, 1994, 1992, 1991; Blue Cage, 1993 (England); Hambone, 1992; African American Review, 1992; Catalyst 1992; and Contact II, 1989; among many others.
She holds a B.A. in psychology from Williams College, a M.B.A. in marketing from Columbia University Graduate School of Business, and a M.S.J. in broadcast journalism from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She is a founding section leader in the Poetry Forum on Compuserve. She served as a founding section leader of African American Resource Forum and in the Books and Writers section of the African American Culture Forum (American Visions) on Compuserve. She also served as a trainer, area coordinator, and group founder and leader for Amnesty International, U.S.A., in the southern tier of New York. She co-authored a biweekly column on social, political, and cultural issues for the Star Gazette in 1995.
She was a finalist in the 1991 Open Voice competition, in the 1990 Barnard New Women Poets Series with her manuscript Fuel for Beginners, and in the MacDonald’s Black literary competition for 1989. Her manuscript, The Prize is the Journey, was a finalist in the 1983 Walt Whitman contest. She is a founding member of the Black Writers Union and the New Renaissance Writers Guild whose alumni include Arthur Flowers, Walter Dean Myers and Terri McMillan.
She led the Voices of Fire Reading Choir from 1987 to 1999, performing her work and that of other African American poets. Akua has given hundreds of readings to audiences in colleges, prisons, parks, museums, libraries and bars. Akua bears an exile’s desire for work close to home, and a writer’s yearning for a galvanizing mythos.
She also creates sculpture, objects, and jewelry in glass, metal and handmade paper; designs crochet patterns, plays with her cat and the soprano saxophone, sings, and makes good manifest.
Nilsa Rivera Castro writes about women with a socio-economic disadvantage and the effect of trauma, hearing loss, homelessness, and violence in their lives. Her work has been featured in Huffington Post, 50 GS Magazine, Six Hens, The Selkie Literary Magazine, LipServices Miami, Writing Class Radio, and The Cream Literary Alliance. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at @nilsawrites.
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