Having Lost a Cowrie Shell

Madness is
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.

Madness is
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.
                                        Madness is
                                        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.

Madness is
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.
                                        Madness is
                                        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.

Madness is
when the sharp horn of the buffalo 
turns into a sacrificial knife
upon the chest of another.
                                        Madness is
                                        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.

Madness is
when a bird hangs death on a palm tree
to release freshness and wet leaves,
the palm nuts splitting on the ground.
                                        Madness is
                                        when alligator pepper is added to foamy palm wine 
                                        and kola nuts until one has four eyes.

Madness is
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.
                                        Madness is
                                        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.

Madness is
when a bird’s laughter follows 
bleak winds like the charred grasses 
that make herd boys weep.
                                        Madness is
                                        when the old women
                                        blow reed flutes to summon 
                                        nascent girls to circumcision.

Madness is
when a brindled gnu on the steep slopes of Manga hisses
the sweet sound of the grasshopper, then abandons its young.
                                        Madness is
                                        when the hunger season arrives, and builders 
                                        pluck fresh mildew to create scarecrows.

Madness is
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.
                                        Madness is
                                        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.

Photo by Aleksandr Kozlovskii on Unsplash

Kennedy Amenya Gisege

Kennedy Amenya Gisege is the author of The Liturgy of Smell (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2016). He has written several books under the pen name Ken Amen. Gisege is incarcerated in the Minnesota Correctional Facility–Faribault.