This is a “Weekly Spotlight” feature piece
I started this poem inspired by witches, priestesses, and conjurers—women who empower themselves by leaning on the spirits of our ancestors and deities. My mother is one of those women. She pours gin into her shrine pot, which is lined at the bottom with rocks fetched from the seas and brooks that hid our ancestors from racist slave-catchers (specifically from an old slave plantation located in Mineral, Virginia). She sings songs and prays in languages that are seemingly alien to us, but are in fact ours via lineage and ancestry. She feels the weight of the world, because the world is spirited. The earth is alive and everything within it—every spirit, every ounce of energy, is palpable to my mother and to countless other women.
One of the more important images tied to my mother’s faith, and the overwhelming image throughout this poem, is a chicken sacrifice. In our Black-Americanized version of Akan spiritual tradition, when a bird (or other animal) is sacrificed, permission is asked to send it back to the creator, prayers are whispered silently to its body, and then the sacrifice is made. In an effort to maintain the cyclical nature of life, the bird is cleaned, cooked, and eaten. Parts of its body—in this case, the beak, the comb, the intestines, the wings, and the talons—are offered to the shrines as “food.” They are organized on a glass plate used only for offerings. One particular deity, my mother’s favorite, likes oranges. She will slice up an orange and sprinkle baby powder over it, as another food offering.
While writing this, I was re-reading ‘for colored girls’ by Ntozake Shange, so that is why I decided to make use of slash marks sometimes to mark pauses, other times in place of commas. I dropped the ‘g’ on words for the same reason. I’ve also re-appropriated common English words such as “supple,” “chasm,” “prayer,” and “concavity.” Towards the end of the poem I use them to describe the holiness that my mother attaches to the animal sacrifice; a “prayered animal” that has been “concavitied for worship.” My mother is able to clean and cook the bird by “chasm-in” the chest. The bird’s heart is “supplin” with the blood of old, Black priestesses and witches.
There are many times when an animal sacrifice has been performed before a ritual or big moment in my or my mother’s life. For instance, before I left on a two-week trip to Jamaica during my senior year of high school, my family sacrificed a white chicken for me. However, in writing this poem I imagined a point in my mother’s life when she needed to lean on her faith in order to find her own personal freedom. I imagined the many women who have prayed, done potions or spells, read cards or bones or stone, slit the necks of animals, bathed in their blood—all in the name of personal freedom, liberation, and change. This is the heart of this poem.
Gusts of old Virginia spirits Waft past my mothers milky face Liftin up strands of grey from her East-to-west shoulders/ stickin them to her pinkish lips
Tiltin to face the sun Closed eyes/ blanketed sky Her voice sways the trees Ancient tongues breakin over
Prayers said into moufs of chickens Vessels of medicines/ potions/ libations Blood lined with my mother’s Twi Body hummin with her hopes
Her last prayer said She unsheathes her blade and Steel vibratin with heartbeat Whispers last thanks to a white bird
Silent finally/ Hearin its mission clearly and directly The fowl tilts towards my mothers lips Attentive/ finite/ still
The bird curls her talons beneath her Tucks her wings beneath her Cocks her head back Rallies the dead/ forgotten/ and nameless
My mothers singin crescendos Her chest risin and fallin/ she and the fowl Bound to each other by Steady fingers and neck
The thrummin of earth Sacrificed/ palpable rhythm of heart Explodin against steel/ bloodyin Palms/ promises of freedom
Warm with medicines/ potions/ libations My mothers vessel of spirit leaps from her hands Trots along the ground chokin on the last of herself Markin the dust crimson with her blood
Of hopes/ Of guttural messages spit from the moufs Of women leavin/ resistin/ creatin new From flames/ bondage/ wreckage or regret
After the chicken has let her body fall Her wings unspread/ her talons untucked Her message gone to the heavens My mothers hands begin healin
Pluckin white feathers from its body Tuckin them inside the wind/ floatin To places beyond Sight/ home to feelin/ knowin/ conjurin
Messages brought on winged/ horned Sacrifices On bellowin voices and deeply felt Virginia winds
With its coat removed/ My mothers hands become steely/ breakin Into the ribbed cage Chasm-in the chest
Its body is washed/ in Waters of dead grandmothers Aunties who killed themselves on The iron fences of men
Shed their skin Made armor out of their innards Served themselves As offering
A plate is readied Glass/ ocean blue Baby powder/ circling a Bloody blackened heart/ supplin with dark divinity
Encircled by its intestines Shielded by wings Headed with the beak and red comb Rooted by its rubbery talons/ offerings
Of prerogative And findin/ risin thru The ashes of subjugation/ loneliness/ isolation Freedom in the broken body of sacrifice
The libation has been poured All that remains is the tender flesh Of a prayered animal Concavitied for worship
A stew is made/ Rice boiled on the back flame Oranges split in half and drizzled in Johnson & Johnson/ gifts of sanctum
This holy meal Bloody with prayer Rich with my mothers words and Years of atonement
Pluckin off The shackles of servility Broken by chanticleer claws Left behind by witches/ women who talk to the dead
Unlivin Managed to die Be reborn And find freedom in their own sacrifice
© Ama Akoto (2018)