i. okra (soul)
I pray my dead speak to me // and my dead stay silent
I pray my dead speak to me // and my dead say “no”
I pray my dead speak to me // and my dead say ________
which I don’t hear // in a foreign language
which is to say // my own
I pray my dead speak to me // and my dead grapple at my throat
drag me to the river // lay me as a boat
I pray my dead to speak to me // and my dead clap back
my dead speak // and all my language ruins me
my dead speak// and I become a hole
my dead speak // what parts of you
have you lost // that you now seek our forgiveness
what anchorage // have you found
that breaks your back towards home?
my dead // show me a man // holding his head in his hands // say
after a man has his head cut off he no longer fears anything
my dead // show me // a man // hanging by his neck // say
all different forms of death // are death
my dead // speak // and all their bubbles froth my mouth
call me towards // my one true name
my dead // show me a tortoise // holding a baby tortoise in its mouth
my dead // show me a bird // with head turned looking backwards
I show my dead a canoe // I beat me as a drum
I am learning let me succeed // I am learning let me succeed
ii. sunsum (spirit)
like when you are going. like a night. shadow. it’s sunsum. but also spirit. back home. when we
say sunsum bono. we mean a bad spirit. when we say sunsum papa we mean all that glimmers in
the night when the moon looks into the face of a brackish pool.
iii. mogya (blood)
my brother, my mother, her mother before then. bone to my bone. an endless array of ashes.
who comes back from billows to stacks of black smoke? my grandfather, a cathedral humbled to the ground and named holy. this much I know. someone once knew this name and knew this blood, clinging. eager to the skin. a betrothal. for lambs that did not know slaughter. or did. and let sheers through their skin in the name of survival. akata fuo. the name for all our taken. my mother’s hands before my eyes. kata wo nei—
son, you come from a place called love
all our people are held in your name
a king once split himself from his blood mirror
loved his people more than his throne
it's said, an entire sea of peoples pulled before a full moon
it's said, the waves puddled and now each one carries their names
son, you come from what remains of them
our people braved water and discovered flame
a dog ran through our village carrying a torch in its mouth
we took the torch’s flame and named it—motive.
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In Akan culture each child is given a name, corresponding to the day of the week upon which they were born. This name (akradin) signifies our ongoing connection to the spiritual world, to the physical world, and to the ancestors.
Emmanuel Oppong-Yeboah is a Ghanaian American poet living out the diaspora in Boston. He is both Black & alive. Emmanuel is the reviews editor for Winter Tangerine and an associate editor for Pizza Pi Press. He currently serves as a WallTalk Teaching Artist for the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, an instructor at the Boston-based nonprofit Grubstreet, and a MassLEAP teaching artist in residency. He has work published or forthcoming in the Hartford Courant, Bird's Thumb, Narrative Northeast, and Platypus Press. In his free time he enjoys hot carbs, brightly colored chapbooks, and the long sigh at the end of a good book.