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Poetry Feature:

Akua Lezli Hope

Meanderings is pleased to present this collection of poems by Akua Lezli Hope. Not only have we known each other for a long time, but Akua reminded me that I was the first person to publish her work, back when we were college students. Fortunately, she didn't let that slow her down as evidenced by the brief biography at the end of this feature! And not only is Akua a great poet and writer, she has also graciously agreed to become the Poetry Editor for Meanderings. I look forward to working with her and hope that her words will grace these pages again in the future. By the way, Akua's email address is --Ed.


Untitled #1
Untitled #2
Revoltillo Bacalao

Untitled #1

Who cries with wasting dawn to worry
Rising for another working
plain among its suited strangers
pain straphanging from each breast.
You call to motion mind sleepwalking,
wring some suckle from a moment.
Pray a shelter, change, some safety.
Play the number, dream the test.

Copyright © 1995, Akua Lezli Hope



Girl, she told me
watch out for those mens with pictures
of other women on they
tall oak chest of drawers
when you ask they be saying
Nah, her, she's just an old
something. but you better know
better know better know
nothing dead remains at eye level.


The dapper esthetician
rubbed her face with herbs
scraped scales and reprimanded
"drink water by the quart not the teaspoon"
"some people" he pouted, "don't know
how to behave". he was waiting
in chrome and steel coloredhood
on the east side so folks could go down
or over, in his white coat and french skills
for a star, to lie beneath his heatlamps


The big one chopped my hair.
He could flutter thick fingers
like a raffia breeze swore
betty was carmen 'cause he knew his jazz
and bemoaned brenda russell's passing. that music
ooo, into prince. but really travelled
away. the partypeople pursued
a lesser dream. All the men he'd
love were us, honey, 'cause the
others, you don't know where
they've been


readying first wrench back
to fryhood down the hill to harlem proper. where
the westindian woman wore a gold tooth
in a razor smile honey can i
help you she tried to steal
me before my lady returned
from back and the man wearing a peacoat
and a suitcase full of outsize girdles
appeared. all the old women gathered
like pigeons to wonderbread in mount morris park
the old yellow woman would be burnt
by the old yellow woman
the razor smiles and broke souls
went to bigbreasted goldtooth who'd bandy or browbeat
each client fit her lady
pets to their owners each
booth was an office an altar
to stringent god of grease and hot iron
and the serious or those passing through
went to my lady of second car,
home in jersey
each head a step
toward freedom


Lola gentled fiveyearold cries
my tenderheaded strain
against the comb
sometimes her belly against my head
but she had a way
better than mommy's
somewhere close to barbering:
sober grownups in tilefloored splendor
of mirror facing streetlife see
yourself in grand high chairs
spinning thrones pedaled upwards
to attending angels of beauty's ministry
her apartment up the hill
St. Nicholas Avenue in Harlem
large dark calm space
devoted to chasten me pretty
mommy said you must
suffer for beauty


andy gave it the old college try
reinitiated me to chemical fry
a little richard
the old time religion
in the hang of his conked
dark locks
the rigor of his hysteria
that vocal sweep from chuckle to giggle
tattle-tale sans tit
had shampooed and straightened
3 generations 2 sides of family some of all were there to cry over him
he was going when he last did me
conked my hair to a tee


The one too serious
to be gay too nervous to be
messing in my head with heat
the one they'd call queer and rob
or faggot and rape on a twilit
summer evening below series of shuteyed lampposts
or just take his day's earnings
why else would his musty shop
bear signs of botanica or
air of funeral parlor, purple maroon
velvet drapes heavy with lashes and wide sashes
windowbox clotted w persistent upper growth of dead plants
why else would he be on '16th street
smack traffic central
denizens of despair
prowling daynight sidewalks
for hydrants of anything to be uncapped
why else would he do my hair
urge me home rush me out of there


Lalonnie, for hawaiian birth
( her mommy reshaped the spelling),
tugged my naps to freedom from
the daily scrape of comb
array of braids, carefree corona
lanky nimbus walking
with ease swimming with joy
bounded variations of millipath
threads, deft weave of future
and past, the taut pull and
facelift, headtingling tug
and slant-eyed stretch of scalp:
low tech and high craft
magic midwife attending pain
and crowning glories
made me love my head
let my sweat be welcome again.

Copyright © 1986, Akua Lezli Hope

Untitled #2

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
hurled wordspears falling short
of flailing black legs MONKEECHASER
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

my mother is an indictment
i am fettered by the genes
directed before beginning
i cry FOR her
this is not capitulating blood
that run fast through my vein
i am the twice born
i take back her tail
to bury it in heartsoil
like placenta by tree and water it
i celebrate saving distance
embrace difference as identity as key
i cook yam say yes ma'am
i deeplisten to grayhairs
before memory flees
of Harlem as home
of being free...

my mother is an indictment
i cry for her
i take back her tail.

Copyright © 1995, Akua Lezli Hope

Revoltillo Bacalao

for Eddie, Carmen and Victor

Steadfast the signal
through years of interference:
westwinds bind the atmosphere
like some forevisioned forcefield
confine the sphere
to press toward shatter
Steadfast the clues
revoltillo Bacalao ! a simple grace
the peondish, the peasant stake
in survival, stomach, art
Revoltillo bacalao ! whole
protein strength and science
the children to grow. on barren
chance for freedom, fertile
the longing toward.
catch the glimpse in Time
Will, be better.
Revoltillo Bacalao !
Feed the mass with fish
and grain, fish is soul
and grain is brain
salvage the belly from bottom
to dance, admix the chemistry
Revoltillo Bacalao !
the fish rises from salt
full bodied and firm
soaked in water from our mutual well.


The silenced make war through cuisine
hearty scions of yam, plantain, greens
codfish and ackee: revoltillo bacalao !
resurrect the fish, drench away brine
from defiled ark crossings. shift weight
spice, like dance, one foot to other
inflection of hip, salsa, saffron
reggae, achiote : bloodsun in rice.

so what my spanish is off
toward the english and none
knows better the look of the letter
than we who key the scale to shatter.


mad malaguena and mulatto meet
slow sad tangos and kushite beat

Raise with me, my cousin
perhaps we can figure
better to trigger
shaman magician
and other technicians
to join conscience,
stomach and art.

bacalao - codfish, a popular Afro-Caribbean fish , usually salted for storage
malaguena - a woman of Malaga, Spain city in southern Spain, NE of Gibraltar, population 334,988; a place in Cuba; a variety of the fandango - a couple dance; a folk tune native to Malaga that is similar to the fandango with stanzas of four octosyllabic verses
revoltillo - to stir up, to agitate, to scramble
revoltillo bacalao - a dish found in New York City's Cuban- Chinese restaurants composed of codfish, scrambled eggs, green peppers, onions; served atop yellow rice; that bears a striking resemblance to the Jamaica, W.I., dish, codfish and ackee.

Copyright © 1995, Akua Lezli Hope

About the Author

Akua Lezli Hope won the Ragdale U.S.- Africa Fellowship in 1993, a Creative Writing Fellowship from The National Endowment For The Arts in 1990 and received an Artists Fellowship in 1987 from the New York Foundation for the Arts. She is published in numerous literary magazines and national anthologies including: 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 Noir, 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, 1994,1992, 1991; Blue Cage, 1993 (England), Hambone, 1992, African American Review, 1992, Catalyst, 1992, and Contact II, 1989, among others.

Akua is a third generation New Yorker/amurkin, firstborn, with three ivy league degrees who grew (but not up) in Brooklyn. She lives and works in Corning, New York. She was a finalist in the 1991 Open Voice competition, 1990 Barnard New Women Poets Series finalist with her manuscript Fuel for Beginners, and a finalist 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. Akua has given over 60 readings during the last ten years to audiences in colleges, prisons, parks, museums and bars. She is a founding member of the Black Writers Union and the New Renaissance Writers Guild whose alumni include Baron James Ashanti, Doris Jean Austin, Arthur Flowers, and Terri McMillan. Akua is the Area Coordinator for Amnesty International, U.S.A. in the Southern Tier of New York and also serves on Amnesty's Cultural Diversity Resource Group. Akua bears an exile's desire for work close to home, and a writer's yearning for a galvanizing mythos. She is at work on her first novel. She sings, organizes, gardens, takes pictures, plays with her saxophone and her cats, reshapes thread, works well, and makes good dreams manifest. [return]

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Meanderings 2.04 -- April 1995