Aunt, the favorite one
once taught and me, too,

"won't you buy my pretty violets
and remember that we met?"
never-leaving tunes, never-ending songs
to be the bride and stand on stage
to manage an awkward grace and be strong

the whole Rogers and Hammerstein liturgy,
our shared credo from grandmother's parlor piano,
reappears for life's bleakest moments:
I would never walk alone
and whenever I feel afraid,
I hold my head erect.
Whistling, and swift sharp ire
like hers are the first line of defense
"Dee tem mwa pokwa
la vee ay bella?"

a telephone for the commuting teen
making her way from poverty to something else
"talk keep talking talking ..."

cars for the poor in-laws
the sweet alien treasures of her wanderings:
abacus, geisha doll, small jewels of observation
postcards, ring watch, diamond, jade

i saved everything:
the broken China bunnies,
that in the '50s
she went away, to college,
the furor about her first apartment
with other women called girls,
women who managed the sky
pioneering life in the new world

every plane ride recalls
every precious bauble reminds
of our sharp tongued sophisticate
dance ballerina dance
the woman who transformed plump Jamaican Harlem
into the best cosmopolitan sass
globe striding, deluxe dilettante
world runner: ma Tante

a fashion statement, Genny,
allowed this mispronunciation
sketched the unassuming into objets d'art

ciao bambino, au revoir ma tante

the big sister i never had, with grand schemes
handsome boyfriends, greater dreams
you were my further assurance
my guide to life's real glories:
crown yourself with love and skill
master the moment, manage the drill

every chic star mimics you
Diahann Carroll, Diana Ross
yours the sharp articulate voice
of brook no trespass, suffer no fools
as corporate racists reassigned your access
you would lash, "those stupid idiots
who the hell do they think they are"
who would transgress against you, yours, ours

your insouciant "Hey Babe"
no one will ever say my name as you did
those plosives curved, enunciated
the jazz of your walk, the mesmerizing switch
your impeccable everything.

I love the way you loved your sister
in loving her, loved all of her, us
even when you could not love me,
the new female you helped create
"and you'll never walk alone"
with access to another language
and the ease of not quite being the first,
of having a model and a vision,
of having a guide,
of witnessing your trajectory,
calculating the height,
knowing the distance.

c 1994 Akua Lezli Hope