from Masks: (i) Libation: (ii) The Making of the Drum

 
1
The Skin
 
First the goat
must be killed
and the skin
stretched.
 
Bless you, four-footed animal, who eats rope,
skilled
upon the rocks, horned with our sin;
stretch your skin, stretch
 
it tight on our hope;
we have killed
you to make a thin
voice that will reach
 
further than hope
further than heaven, that will
reach deep down to our gods where the thin
light cannot leak, where our stretched
 
hearts cannot leap. Cut the rope
of its throat, skilled
destroyer of goats; its sin,
spilled on the washed gravel, reaches
 
and spreads to devour us all. So the goat
must be killed
and its skin
stretched.
 
2
The Barrel of the Drum
 
For this we choose wood
of the tweneduru tree:
hard duru wood
with the hollow blood
that makes a womb.
 
Here in this silence
we hear the wounds
of the forest;
we hear the sounds
of the rivers;
 
vowels of reed-
lips, pebbles
of consonants,
underground dark
of the continent.
 
You dumb adom wood
will be bent,
will be solemnly bent, belly
rounded with fire, wound-
ed with tools
 
that will shape you.
You will bleed,
cedar dark,
when we cut you;
speak, when we touch you.
 
3
The Two Curved Sticks of the Drummer
 
There is a quick
stick grows in the for-
est, blossoms twice year-
ly without leaves;
bare white branches
crack like light-
ning in the harm-
attan.
 
But no harm
comes to those who live near-
by. This tree, the
elders say, will never
die.
 
From this stripped tree
snap quick sticks for
the festival. Its wood,
heat-hard as stone,
is toneless as bone.
 
4
Gourds and Rattles
 
Cal-
abash trees'
leaves
 
do not clash;
bear a green
gourd, burn
copper in the
light, crack
open seeds
that rattle.
 
Blind underground the rat's
dark saw-teeth bleed
the wet root, snap
its slow long drag of time,
 
its grit, its flavour; turn
the ripe leaves sour. Clash
rattle, sing gourd; never leave
time's dancers weary like this tree
that makes and mocks our music.
 
5
The Gong-Gong
 
God is dumb
until the drum
speaks.
 
The drum
is dumb
until the gong-gong leads
 
it. Man made,
the gong-gong's iron eyes
 
of music
walk us through the humble
dead to meet
 
the dumb
blind drum
where Odomankoma speaks:
 
 

part II of Sequence 1 'Libation' from Masks (1968) in The Arrivants: A New World Trilogy (OUP, 1973), © Kamau Brathwaite 1968, 1973, used by permission of the author

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1from Masks (i) Libation (i) Prelude

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2from Masks (i) Libation (ii) The Making of the Drum

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