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.

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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