Jason Nicholas Smith had a good day at the last City Voices meeting of 2018, on 24th November. His short story “Sankofa” won the group short story contest, with a cash prize of £50 and a certificate presented by our judge Jayne. After the meeting Jason dashed across to Shrewsbury Festival for the Poetry Slam, which he only went and won! Congratulations to Jason who has been called “the busiest man in poetry” - if he is not poeting, slamming or working, he can be found volunteering or giving inspirational talks to schools, prisons, church groups and even being a bit of a star in that London.
Now for the story, which Jason has kindly given me permission to post here. If you are wondering about the title, Sankofa is a word in the Twi language of Ghana that translates to "Go back and get it" and also refers to the Asante Adinkra symbol represented either with a stylized heart shape or by a bird with its head turned backwards while its feet face forward carrying a precious egg in its mouth.
My ancestors stand amid the smoking embers of what was once home with their eyes
seemingly to silently sing sad songs. My wife is there among them too, all dressed in white.
Their lips are moving, but I cannot hear. Then they shake their heads and point to the tall
palm tree I once climbed, just like the royal high priest did as a boy. They point to a rock
from which I made carvings, and then they point to a golden Sankofa bird that speaks to me
without sound telling me it is not taboo to fetch what is at risk of being left behind.
The Sankofa bird moves to stand under a 'Kum' tree with its roots protruding into a tributary
of the River Nile. The Sankofa birds' feet are planted facing forward and when it turns its
head backwards to pluck an egg off its back, I begin to understand that along times passage
the knowledge of past must never be forgotten. We must reach back to gather the best of
what past teaches to go forward.
My wife reaches out then and with her touch, words spoken by my ancestors wash over me
like an eternity of waves. The weight of their stories causes me to fall to my knees, but I
continue falling downwards until the chains enslaving my consciousness release me to rise
up from sleep and back among my people in captivity on the slave trader ship.
Chains disengaging hatches drags loud cries from the mouths of those amid delirium of
disease and trauma. Slavers descend with clanging bells like farmers calling cattle to feed,
and those refusing to eat are force-fed, while the dead are unceremoniously thrown
overboard to meet with the Goddess of rivers and Justice.
Under heat's oppressive hand I begin to chant and give thanks that my wife has visited the
sacred lake in our land of Ashanti and sang goodbye to its God, before ascending up over
the hill and beyond.
A scurrying sound whispers over wood and I feel a sharp bite, but it cannot compare to
watching my son bludgeoned, my wife being led away with her screams echoing along the
deep gash in my psych, and the foreknowledge of the pain yet to come.
I am thrown about as giant waves toss the ship. My peoples screams almost causes me to
let loose tightly reigned rage, but I grip my tongue with my teeth, gain control, and begin to
sing ancestral songs about a strange land.
©Jason Nicholas Smith