Mother says I was a bird in my previous life. She also says I was a dog. And then she says I was her sister because I look so much like her. These are creatures I fear in actuality. I will not define the reverence I have for my mother as fear that causes flight but rather it is one that can potentially lead me to disappointing her.
2.My grandmother whom I look like, whose face my mother stole, owned a small chicken coop in the village. She named her chickens and goats after her grandchildren and raised them for their consumption. When I was about 10, my father, my older sister, Karen, and I, drove about three hours to visit her and she sent us off with Akua one of her chickens. They tied her legs and wings and sat her in the back seat where I would sit. I begged Karen to switch places with me but she wouldn’t budge. Father didn’t believe in eating dead chickens so he refused to put Akua in the trunk. On the highway, between Accra and Apredi, I moved to the edge of my seat and almost opened the car to jump out before Akua got to me. I was not thinking. My father pulled over immediately, shouted at me and then threw Akua in the trunk. Karen giggled and then frowned because she had insisted on studying and not coming on this trip anyway.
3.The things you fear haunts you regardless of your geographical location.
4.If anyone had told me New York City pigeons carried little respect, I might not have come. They say Africa is a safari but I hardly saw that many birds. I am most likely to change the direction of my journey from seeing a pigeon mile away. I know where they are: on 161st street, at the #4 train stop, they are hiding under the train roofs. On 225th street on the #1 train line, they are lined up on the Presbyterian Hospital roof. They are everywhere on Union Square. I try not to travel to these places often but sometimes these birds get to me before I get to the train station.
5.In my room, a picture of a red parrot stares at me. It watched me pray to God for protection each night before I sleep.
6.Here is my place of fear and disgust: the Vivero or 149th Street on 3rd Avenue, the Bx 19 stop. There is no amount of explanation that will not diagnose me with complete madness. But at the Bx 19 stop, I am pressed beyond torture. In the worst case scenarios, pedestrians feed these obese avian. I stare in wonder and want to hit the food out of their hands. The thing is, these birds are constantly brave. I wave them away and they fly two feet next to me. I do sympathize when I see one with a broken legs or no legs. But my sympathy is a dying man’s breath.
7.Mother knows I am scared of chickens but she sends me to the Vivero every time. She thinks she is helping me to gradually get over the phobia. It has not worked. I will die and be reincarnated as chicken. “Buy the cockerels. If you can get fresh goat meat that will be great.” Picture me telling the butcher what chicken I want and screaming like a lost child when he brings it out of its coop.
8.The last time I went it rained. The starlings roamed free right in front of the store while their seniors were tied and being free of their feathers. Size matters. But there is always that one chicken that refuses to be killed. He let loose and ran out, heading directly towards me. I did not think again. I screamed again and ran out the store.
9.The goats though do not cause my blood to vibrate.
10.They are larger and don’t possess wings to cause chaos. I see the way they just stare at each other and rotate their jaws to chew. I ask myself, do they know the fate that lies ahead? Do they hear the sound of their brothers’ bones being broken by machines? I look away when the butcher comes in to pull them by the legs and they bleat and bleat and I want to beg the butcher to let them go so they can eat in peace. And then the cashier calls my number. My chicken has been cleaned and chopped into pieces. So I walk away.
Afua Ansong is a Ghanaian American artist who writes poetry and teaches contemporary and traditional West African dance. Afua is currently working on several projects about the migration of humans and birds. Her work can be seen or is forthcoming in The Seventh Wave, Maine Review, Vinyl, Oxford Poetry & other Magazines.