when the earth lets a man
lean on it then lets
his father, mother, brothers,
and sisters all die.
Madness is when
the goats bleat
the cocks crow
the frogs croak
as if startled awake by terrible dreams,
or a madman apostrophizing unseen demons.
when the warrior god
calls the initiates
to the altar stone
in a masquerade
to play with death
to prove their mettle
and fight imaginary foes.
when the sons of Sundiata Keita
and Mansa Musa, lost a cowrie shell,
burned Timbuktu, then let the cold Harmattan winds
ferry its ashes to Allah, so
god could see their pain, and madness
would see the madness of their faith.
when a pretty bird journeyed to a river
so the red birds and yellow birds
sent to find it could be eaten
by its rippling waters.
when the crows in their ghostly
bone-weary gait rip open
the corn cobs up on a hill,
without a scarecrow to protect them
while the owl tells lies of contentment
when it knows, it doesn’t eat corn or crows.
when the sharp horn of the buffalo
turns into a sacrificial knife
upon the chest of another.
when cowrie shells toil to stop the ocean
from backing up against the shore,
the crawfish telling the tides in Nyali beach
to sacrifice fish eggs.
when a bird hangs death on a palm tree
to release freshness and wet leaves,
the palm nuts splitting on the ground.
when alligator pepper is added to foamy palm wine
and kola nuts until one has four eyes.
when a calabash is filled with mud and milk teeth
instead of goat milk, which lets kids see what they see,
makes infants reach for their noses
and fart like deities to tell us what to do.
when the shade trees cast shadows on tilled land
causing ill-health to creepers and the touraco bird
as those heavy stones of the night,
which induce sweat when heated to cure illness.
when a bird’s laughter follows
bleak winds like the charred grasses
that make herd boys weep.
when the old women
blow reed flutes to summon
nascent girls to circumcision.
when a brindled gnu on the steep slopes of Manga hisses
the sweet sound of the grasshopper, then abandons its young.
when the hunger season arrives, and builders
pluck fresh mildew to create scarecrows.
when there is very little and the hens leave
to scavenge in the dog grass,
and the hens that remain drink the sacred beer
brewed by spirits and fall, fall like madmen
as a train rushing into a ravine
a steep hill and down a mountain with sore feet.
when the black centipede praises the open field
where the crane bird found it––
but I tell you, madness, real madness
is the moon going into the dark
where it is greeted by those
apes on Virunga Mountains.