The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Them Gone by Akua Lezli Hope

my mother is an indictment

i am fettered by the genes

limited before beginning

i cry against her

that she was not more

than second generation running

from that tropic tongue

too chastised to be fast

too whipped to be hip

not bold enough to embrace

heartrhythm’s wilderness

spice nights of peas ’n rice

the lingolilt of her people

persisting after backs dry

and green ripen

like banana like guava

like mango comesome

gingerbeer burn in mouth

little blackgirl runningfasthard breathless

beyond sweat her braids loosening in flight

running (monkee monkee monkee chaser)

hurled wordspears falling short

of flailing black legs monkee chaser

tribe silver on her arm marking her

as sure as cheekscars monkeechaser she stop

hard turns shescared shefight flailing arms

of fear fight strong with fear fatigue she fight

she strong shechange shebecome

yankeegirl accentless

Harlemcool and homegrownsweet

she nocookhot this second generation

she no jibe-jive with elders

in accented imitation no

she run fast she run fast

slicing off edges cutting her mythical tail
collecting menstrual blood

offerings for the melting pot

idol of her parent’s new religion

multistoried monstrosity with fool’s

gold pasties on witch’s marquee

beautiful at the distance

unbridgeable gap


why-o why-o why-o she can’t crossover ?

This selection comes from the book, Them Gone, available from Word Works.  Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Nilsa Rivera.

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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