Origin Story

by Honora Ankong

In 1803 approx. 75 enslaved Igbos rose in rebellion, took control of the ship, drowned their captors, and in the process caused the grounding of the ship in Dunbar Creek.  The sequence of events that followed remains unclear. It is only known that The Igbo marched ashore, singing, led by their high chief. Then,  at his direction, they walked into the marshy waters of Dunbar Creek, committing mass suicide.


 For seven days and nights— I thrashed on my bedroom floor      calling out for god    

 and  she came to me     undrowned—                       risen                             from the creeks          of Dunbar—   she  walked  her way out     of the water                  all ghostly and ashen,          afro intact and glorious                                                                 dripping droplets                     

             orbs of holy                             water           body draped                            in white 

cloth with broken                                         chains twangling 

                                                                                                                                                                       from her neck.  


She spoke first: 


Before slave catcher and chain,      I was just a girl—   knew nothing of what carries with a body during exile.  I was a girl in a village  alive      with a steady hum of waterfalls & the murmurings of    the mundane.   I was wide-eyed  and blossoming— before enslavement  made martyr of me, I was just a girl who snuck sips of palm wine when the elders weren’t looking         and I had dreams of an eventual you— If you must know anything, know that I was a girl  forced unto a ship, but knew freedom as my  birthright.  When the water opened                        its mouth               I saw home reach out for me,   arms outstretched         longing to caress and I knew— the water was the only way out &   that  death is but         a doorway. I’ve heard your cries, so I come     to you  so death can wait a little longer                 your tomorrow already exists        it might be in this foreign land       but home carries on your skin           return to water        but only let it pour into you— there’s wisdom in a thing as ancient as        these  waters that wash you today   trickled down my face when I cried against captivity—


I looked up from my floor and saw my eyes in her eyes      I heard her voice lurch from my throat  and knew history  will begin and end   right here      in a bedroom in Virginia     our together voice    careening  and crooning— will sing: 


We were  abandoned in this strange 

                                                                            Land and  have long forgotten 

who we are.  We listened for god—                                                  but  heard only our own howls      echoing        back.            we’ve tried making peace                                                with migration           but  we are  a body          in departure         longing  for return       & there’s grief        in our blood    

  -line       and the blood       it curdles           where it is meant                                     to flow. We’ve poemed       every pain— mixed it in salt       -water and gaggled          we’ve known suicide     as longing       for the cool kiss of  river          god—   we know 

a body doesn’t forget—   we returned                      to water— begged the Atlantic to swallow 


us whole        but water confesses.                                   We brought  soil                       red harmattan dust    caked to our   feet.                    We tried to wash clean                  of Cameroon      but  the water confessed   

as red-sediments  pooled                                 at our  feet.     We hovered   

                                                                                                          over Atlantic        imagined 

what it would feel like to be  an island          embraced by the great                        expanse    would we stand up and swim?     What happens                 when an island washes                  up to shore?


Editors Note: “Origin Story” has been altered to fit storySouth‘s online format. You can read the poem in it’s original form here: Origin Story by HONORA ANKONG

Honora Ankong is a queer Cameroonian-American poet. She is currently a Virginia Tech MFA in poetry candidate. Her works exist in and explore the liminal space in which her identities intersect. She is concerned with complicating and expanding narratives of immigration, Blackness and queer identity. She has work forthcoming in the Peregrine Journal, Lolwe, Glass, The Swamp, Mineral lit, and the Maine Review. She can be found on Twitter @Honooraa, and online at honoraankong.com.