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

Evocateur

for Eartha Kitt

Your purr was always there
How catwoman, a role you made your own
was inhabited as shape shifter transmutes
fesh
making us believe along
that this human is something else
and more

your
fuidity sprung from
being beaten
metal made malleable early
after your forging in rough nameless times
unfathered streets and pass along mothers
poorly shod feet and indi
ferent others
What did Orson Welles taste in your blood

in your bitten lip?
holding you close was not enough
kissing did not teach
his hungry genius yearned to know your secret
only in some bloodletting
might he glimpse the mystery
of your transformative magics

Not just the must of recreation, lemons into aid
where is sugar?
where is water?
there was only this blood still wanting
with a community of riches
but no family to focus your light
How some light must blaze brighter
to not be extinguished
nameless times of foodlessness,
ragged, bare, singular in want when you can see
through windows of great stores of promise

When along wide Harlem boulevards
that concrete Mecca, Black folk did promenade,
hatted, coi
fed, well shod
as from cabarets, clubs, bars,
distant tinkles of laughter, joy, music
suggest you take this in and envision
yourself fabled, fabulous
so you carve your talent

with movement, with work
with your own fanned fame
your own coals carried in singed heart
Now your name is known, held dear
Eartha, as your voice held us
curled us around you
spun us up, your erotic ferocity
velvet whips, your recitative trill
cajoled, commanded, electric
to watch as you simmered or blazed in every camera angle
whenever you were there, you, we watched
and then these late, later years
teaching dance, passing your body’s gift on
your efort to give, transfuse
as all great ones do
shamans loving us into better selves
dancing us, singing us anew


This selection comes from the book, Them Gone, available from THE WORD WORKS.  Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Tierney Bailey.

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.

Tierney Bailey is a Libra, a lover of science fiction and poetry, and studies Korean in her spare time. Currently, Tierney is an associate poetry editor at Sundress Publications, a copyeditor at Strange Horizons, and a freelance graphic designer. Tierney earned a Masters Degree in Writing, Literature, and Publishing from Emerson College. Tierney is most easily found screaming into the void on Twitter as @ergotierney. 
 

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One thought on “The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Them Gone by Akua Lezli Hope

  1. I so appreciate the appreciation of focusing on this poem, but alas what is presented doesn’t follow the line breaks, and several words are misspelled — so it’s not as presented in the book…. I wonder if a cut and paste here will allow the poem to survive.. I’ll try…

    Evocateur
    for Eartha Kitt

    Your purr was always there
    How catwoman, a role you made your own
    was inhabited as shape shifter transmutes flesh
    making us believe along
    that this human is something else and more

    your fluidity sprung from being beaten
    metal made malleable early
    after your forging in rough nameless times
    unfathered streets and pass along mothers
    poorly shod feet and indifferent others

    What did Orson Welles taste in your blood in your bitten lip?
    holding you close was not enough kissing did not teach
    his hungry genius yearned to know your secret
    only in some bloodletting might he glimpse the mystery
    of your transformative magics

    Not just the must of recreation, lemons into aid
    where is sugar?
    where is water?
    there was only this blood still wanting
    with a community of riches
    but no family to focus your light
    How some light must blaze brighter

    to not be extinguished
    nameless times of foodlessness,
    ragged, bare, singular in want when you can see
    through windows of great stores of promise

    When along wide Harlem boulevards
    that concrete Mecca, Black folk did promenade,
    hatted, coiffed, well shod
    as from cabarets, clubs, bars,
    distant tinkles of laughter, joy, music
    suggest you take this in and envision
    yourself fabled, fabulous
    so you carve your talent with movement,
    with work, with your own fanned flame
    your own coals carried in singed heart

    Now your name is known, held dear
    Eartha, as your voice held us
    curled us around you,
    spun us up, your erotic ferocity
    velvet whips, your recitative trill
    cajoled, commanded, electric
    to watch as you simmered or blazed in every camera angle
    whenever you were there, you, we watched
    and then these late, later years
    teaching dance, passing your body’s gift on,
    your effort to give, transfuse,
    as all great ones do
    shamans loving us into better selves
    dancing us, singing us anew

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