black keys from trees white keys locked

on black shoulders locked together above

skeleton ribs keys to 45 keyboards from one

tusk the word ivory rang through the air

one tusk + one slave to carry it bought

together if slave survived the long march

sold for spice or sugar plantations if not

replaced by other slaves five Africans died

for each tusk 2 million for 400,000 American

pianos including the one my grandmother

played not to mention grieving villages

burned women children left to die the dead

elephants whose tusks went to Connecticut

where they were cut bleached and polished

while my grandmother played in Illinois

my mother played and I— there were many old

pianos and slaves were used till the 20th century:

an African slave could have carried a tusk

that was cut into white keys I played, starting

with middle C and going up and down

More by Martha Collins

The Good Gray Wolf

Wanted that red, wanted everything tucked inside
that red, that body, it seemed, turned inside out,
that walking flower, petals furled, leaved
by the trees by the forest path, the yellow basket
marking the center--

			wanted to raise that rose
petal skin to my gray face, barely to brush
that warmth with my cold nose, but I knew she'd cry
for mercy, help, the mother who'd filled the basket
that morning, Wolf, she'd cry, Wolf, and she'd
be right, why should she try to see beyond
the fur, the teeth, the cartoon tongue wet
with anticipation?

			And so I hid behind
a tree as she passed on the path, then ran, as you know,
to her grandmother's house, but not as they say, I knocked
and when she answered I asked politely for her
advice. And then, I swear, she offered me tea,
her bonnet, an extra gown, she gave me more
than advice, she tucked me into a readied bed,
she smoothed my rough fur, I felt light
as a flower, myself, stamened and stemmed in her
sweet sheets.

			Not ate her, you see, but rather became
her, flannel chest for the red head, hood
that hid the pearl that when I touched it flushed
and shone. What big eyes! and she opened the cape,
tongue, mouth to her mouth, and opened everything,
I crooned, crawling inside, wolf to flower,
gray to rose, grandmother into child
again, howl to whisper, dagger to cloak,
my mother father animal arms, disarmed
by love, were all she ever dreamed of.

[white paper #28]

could get a credit card loan car

come and go without a never had

to think about a school work job

to open doors to buy a rent a nice

place yard park beside a walk

in any store without a never had

to dress to buy a dress shoes under-

wear to understate or –play myself 

to make myself heard to get across 

a street a never mind point I never

had to earn the right to climb  

my own if I should lose my key or

all I own my open door world was all 

before me where to choose to and I

Animal / Anima


all of us     all but us     only

(but not us) the mammals     or only

us: animal in us     or only

the male of us:     brute

 

no animals     in the Bible

only beasts     as  of the field

not us:     it says    breathed

into     in our image     of the dust

 

anima breath     to anima

soul     but all animals

breathe the     same     one

long song     the same     air
 

Related Poems

Piano

Softly, in the dusk, a woman is singing to me;   
Taking me back down the vista of years, till I see   
A child sitting under the piano, in the boom of the tingling strings   
And pressing the small, poised feet of a mother who smiles as she sings.   
   
In spite of myself, the insidious mastery of song
Betrays me back, till the heart of me weeps to belong   
To the old Sunday evenings at home, with winter outside   
And hymns in the cosy parlour, the tinkling piano our guide.   
   
So now it is vain for the singer to burst into clamour   
With the great black piano appassionato. The glamour 
Of childish days is upon me, my manhood is cast   
Down in the flood of remembrance, I weep like a child for the past.