Nkonde Song

Nkonde Song

Manhattan

If you wake into a smallish room,
Don’t long for centuries of peace.
Instead, let the pigeon, his sleepy steel sheen
As he lifts and crackles, tap his angry sword
At your kitchen window, and listen!

This, the cello’s nearly human voice, useful yet unused.
This, the music laid upon the page—
Nail it to your chest and lick the nail.
Let it hang there. Twitch, then shake
Until ink comes like blood to bruise.

Young prophets, their pockets sewn shut,
Will learn in another life how to live.
Until then, we bait and steal,
The seams at our pockets open—listen. Even now
They’re pulling the great horse into our harbor.


1. The nkonde is an African religious figure, the guardian of collective memory. In art, his face is often depicted as aggressive, his mouth open. He has an affinity with nails.