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.