The Drums

The Drums

The drums stand four-square,
anchored by some grave dynastic habit
spelling ceremony, their roundness

harder to embrace than an old man’s
spreading trunk. Your arms slip and are
ambushed on a waistband.

Across each torso lies a smooth-as-satin
strip where, long before the brush
feathers, figures skip. Dancers,

primal and therefore innocent, rotate
in a contained aesthetic. They are ripe for
pirating, if you have the courage,

if you have the language. Pick them up
on ship cloth in a coastal town
a thousand years away –

bronze bodies spilled out of the mold
and softened on the loom.
The figures take first equidistant steps

on cotton bands – no one of them
holds hands. They will gather speed
as the flicker of a man’s anxiety,

vague and occasional at first,
broadens at the end of life into a threnody.
Theirs is no false start.

Call it a release of subjugated glee.
I feel it as a father’s gene dance
quickening in me.

‘The Drums’, from Porcelain (Auckland University Press, 2001), © Diana Bridge 1996, used by permission of the author. Recording from the Aotearoa New Zealand Poetry Sound Archive 2004.

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