Five Things I Learned in Africa

Your time will come

whenever a person complains to me that
the dead are better off than he
I hasten to remind him that


truth belongs to everyone
it is like a needle on the ground
an old man and a child
both can pick it up.

On scratching one’s ass

A man can’t play the drums
and scratch his ass at the same time.
choose one or the other—
and just because someone else has the runs
doesn’t mean you have to scratch your ass, so—
mind your own business.

A tree is just a tree is just a tree is just

a tree may float in the river forever
but it will never become a
you may have many degrees and
honors and position but—
you are still an idiot.

Elders got game

an old man sitting on a rock
sees much farther than a boy in a tree
he knows a rock does not have blood
no matter how hard you squeeze
and that truth is closer than we think.


Michael Coolen is a pianist, composer, actor, performance artist, storyteller, and writer living in Corvallis, Oregon. His written works have been published in Ethnomusicology, Western Folklore, Oregon Humanities, and elsewhere. He has also published music for various ensembles, and his compositions have been performed around the world, including at Carnegie Hall, the New England Conservatory of Music, MoMA, and the Christie Gallery in New York.

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