In Kemeni (24 kilometers from Bla)
…you feel pretty sure of yourself when you’re a white man with a knife in your hand…
[Michel Leiris, Phantom Africa]
We are burning with desire to see the kono
inside its spirit house, a treasure trove, niches bone-rich
with sacrifices that chatter from the walls.
We want its nebulous bundle, bituminized,
to hold in our hands and decipher.
Is it a suckling pig, a dog, a man?
Griaule takes a photo. (How else to freeze
this moment in time, to remember this place
before we strip it?)
Though we ask nicely and offer to pay,
they will not perform the rituals,
leaving us burning on the stoop.
Either way, we’ll take what we want,
doing them the favor of documenting
their disappearing culture, for no one believes
what they cannot see. Try as we might, we cannot
see the spirit in the kono. We cover it
with a tarp and toss it in the truck.
Once back in camp, we unwrap our loot.
It wears a crust of blood which gives it
the majesty that blood confers on all things.
We pass it around. We fill out a notecard.
We wish there were more such places.
What compelled us was the idea of profanation.