Once Confined
Michael Neff

Pelvis sandstone            beside symbols of question

stick-traced at sunset,           answered by the pause of fox.

Strata of chanting vertebrae           west of the Côte d’Ivoire,

late beside the Niger,        land of cliffs and chockstones

you have blown through.          Saharan winds of harmattan

dicing the ochre earth        to scab and craquelcure.

It’s all inside you:          the Toloy who lived here,

gathering slow as scree          and naming the baobab trees,

avoiding the sun like fungi.          One of the locals, village hogon,

watches sidelong as you eye          the tortoise-carved stilts

of his son.          Symptoms of culture, once traced, confine

the people, you tell him.              He calls you, Europa.

Would hurl you from cliffs.          Malian francs dropped in his bowl

convince him you are mad.        Return to your land of black light

and wind-filled metal, he says.          Instead Europa must begin

the steaming off to culture ash—          less eye, more sounds:

a trituration echo of millet,          stairs of stone troughed to bowls

by the water of feet,          grave caves of the Bandiagara

air-trilled by sherd,          bone wood, and sacred fingerbell.