|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.
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
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
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
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
t inside an aged breast
hangs w th no