Ghana: For Bessie Head | Ama Ata Aidoo

To begin with

there’s the small problem of address:

calling you
by the only name some of us
knew you by,

hailing you by titles
you could not possibly
have cared for,

referring you to
strange and clouded
origins that eat into
our past our pain
like prize-winning cassava tubers in
abandoned harvest fields…

Some of us never ever met you.

And who would believe
that but those who know
the tragedies of our land
visions unopening and other such
abortions are
every day reality?

To continue a
confession of sorts,

‘Miss Head’ will just not do
‘Bessie’ too familiar
Bessie Head,

your face swims into focus
through soft clouds of
cigarette smoke and from behind the
much much harder barriers erected by some
quite unbelievable
20th. century philosophy,

saying more of
your strength
than all the tales
would have us think.

For the moment,

we fear and
dare not accept that
given how things

poetry almost becomes
dirges and
not much more.

we hold on to knowing
ourselves as daughters of
darklight women
who are so used to Life
– giving it
feeding it –

was always
quite unwelcome;
– taking them by surprise –
an evil peevish brat
to be flattered,
over-dressed and perfumed…

We fear to remember:
fatigued as we are by so much
death and dying and
the need to bury and
to mourn.

Bessie Head:
such a fresh ancestress!

If you chance
on a rainy night
to visit,

if you chance
on a sunny day
to pass by,

look in to see
– how well we do
– how hard we fight
– how loud we scream

against the plots
– to kill our souls our bodies too
– to take our land, and
– feed us shit.

Dear Fresh Spirit,

that rejoining
The Others,
you can tell them
now more than ever,

do we need
the support
the energy

to create
recreate and

nothing more
nothing less.


Ama Ata Aidoo (originally Christina Ama Aidoo) was born in Abeadzi Kyiakor, in south central Ghana. She grew up in the Fanti royal household, and attended the Wesley Girl’s High School in Cape Coast from 1961 to 1964. In 1964, she enrolled at the University of Ghana in Legon, where she received a bachelor’s degree in English. Many of her works explore the tension between Western and African world views, and the relationship between the oppressor and the oppressed. She has also authored several children’s books.

The African Book Review is posting a poem from each of Africa’s 55 countries over the next few weeks. Poem suggestions can be sent through the comments form below. ‘Like’ us on FacebookTwitter, and Tumblr to read all the poems.

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