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What Unites Us: Turkish Short Stories

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Under Our Skin, Too;Breast Cancer Around the World- For Ahou

Painting by Eric Larkin

My daughter was born on a Thursday, in Cote d’Ivoire into the Akan group of the Baoule.  Though my husband and I had already decided to name our first child Sojourner after the indomitable Sojourner Truth, we had decided her middle name would be the traditional name designated for the day of the week in which she would be born.  There was one caveat; if she was born on a Thursday, my husband was insistent that Sojourner would not be given the name of Ahou.  

For both us, names carried powers and omens of their own and my husband’s mother, who was named Ahou, had had such a difficult life.  And her ending was especially full of torment because she died of untreated breast cancer.  My husband had witnessed her agonizing exit out of this world.  He did not want his daughter burdened by his mother’s history.
Our daughter was born on a Thursday. And though Sojourner does not carry the name of her paternal grandmother-Ahou-, she is every bit the feisty, proud person that her maymay was. Ahou, Ahou, Ahou…
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and I invite my readers to consider women in other parts of the world and uninsured women here, in the United States, who have no access or very limited access to healthcare that could save their lives.
I wrote the following poem in memory of my mother-in-law and those traditional healers who, in the face of unfamiliar and rapacious challenges like breast cancer, are undeterred in their search for a cure.

Homesick Spirits
By Octavia McBride-Ahebee

                                                    Aya brought back,
                                                                 carrying vestiges of her pride in her hip,
                                                                                   a caged bird from the city
                                                   whose tongue had been eaten
                                                                            by the whipping tongues of red-headed salamanders
                                                   and whose throat, tautly strapped in a malachite choker
                                                                                 with gems made of coffee and bark,
                                                                                              danced holding the cadence of lost crickets.
                              Aya, our village healer,
                                                                                       the child who pushed
feet first into an empty Friday
                                                                                                                       afternoon
                                                                                                                    had grown flat, faithless in the knowledge
                                                                     of her plants
                                               in their power to seduce with fragrance and fear
                                                    these new homesick spirits
who stand at the doors of our breasts
                                                                 bu ld
                                                                    i
                                                                                   ing tunnels with its anger to the tips
where our children once sucked relief
from the taunts of companion spirits who float alone.

I tore-off the dry reeds of my roof
cutting it with a dead cross
dressed in tired, singing cowry shells
to let in the weight and tales of the rain
waiting beneath the stomach of a headless pain
to offer my breast to a star in wanderlust
                                                     after I had c l awe
                                                                                        d
                                        the earth with the whole
                                    of my body
tempting it with the blood of dense life
                                 if it would feast on the whole of my left dreams
                                                                           But Aya, my friend with two daughters
                       who lay in the ground with faces down,
                                                                                  hooded in dyed Guinea cloth
with one breast between them,

said be                                   p a t i e n t ,
                                                                      homesick spirits, she recently learned,
preferred to feed on the sorrow of silenced birds

                                                       than  r
                                                     o
                                                                  t inside an aged breast
that
                 hangs    w                       th                  no
                                      i
                                                                                                                      JOY.
                                                                   -the end-



                                                                                
                            
                                                                    
                                                                   




                                                    
                                


                     



                                                      
                
                                                                


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