Years Afterward

Waiting for Asa, I have been thinking about the conditions of my own birth. They could not, in some ways, be more different than Asa’s experience. I was born in 1977 in Kumasi, Ghana, in west Africa at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology Hospital. The internet has failed me; I can’t find out the weather forecast for the week I was born in Kumasi. I think, though, that is safe to assume it was pretty warm. There was certainly no snow on the ground. Maybe latent African memories explain my obsessive listening to Archie Shepp and Dollar Brand (Abdullah Ibrahim)’s “Barefoot Boy from Queens Town to Mongezi” from the album Duet.

I have also been thinking about the naming of our child. Where did the name Asa come from? I am reminded of a poem I read years ago in the Harvard Review that I tore out and kept:

Christening

It was snowing, as it had all night,
And from the look of the drifts he waded,
He was the first one out on 24th Street.
In the faint light, dragging the sack
Of newspapers that erased his footprints,
He became aware of a sound barely louder
Than the hiss of canvas. A flock of birds
He’d never seen before, not sparrows –
Smaller, more colorful – swayed chirping
In the single maple along his route.
Day by day, he’d watched the tree turn
Scarlet, then fade to a glow the shade
Of overripe pears. Leaves still clinging,
Ladened with snow, were inscribed
With the hieroglyphics of bird tracks.
Suddenly, the flock gusted into the twirling
White, emitting as they disappeared
A shrill syllable left hanging – vowelless,
Unpronounceable in any language, its meaning
Foreign to words, secret, so that even then,
If he could, he wouldn’t have revealed it –
A cry farewell, perhaps, but he remembers it
As hearing – so many years before
He heard its gasp from his own mouth –
The first wild utterance of her name.

By Stuart Dybek

The first wild utterance of his name – where did I hear it?

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