Kalyna Review

Michael Coolen

  • "In the early 1970s I was the resident ethnomusicologist at the Cultural Archives of the Republic of the Gambia, West Africa.  I was responsible for working with historians, genealogists, and musicians, both Mandinka and Wolof, throughout the country.  Below are three common Mandinka aphorisms, on which I built a poem. "




Ningso fingo, keekee koi


No matter how black a cow is


the milk is always white.


and you with your bitter heart


your bitter bitter heart


your bitter heart will devour everything,


especially you.




Kiro silo mang jang faa


no matter how far your journey


no matter how difficult your life


peace is not far


it is always inside you.




Boto kensengo buka lo no


An empty bag will never stand on its own.


So, really,


you shouldn't run for political office.

About the author


Michael Coolen is a pianist, composer, actor, performance artist, storyteller, and writer living in Corvallis, Oregon.


His works have been published in Ethnomusicology, Western Folklore, Oregon Humanities, 50wordstories Online, The Gold Man Review, Best Travel Stories: Volume 11, Crooked/Shift, The Fable Online, Twisted Vine, The Clementine Poetry Journal, Creative Writing Institute, Rats Ass Review, et al.


He is a published music composer, whose 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.