Bird Sacrifice

Bird Sacrifice

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
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

Managed to die
Be reborn
And find freedom in their own sacrifice

© Ama Akoto (2018)

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