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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
From White Papers by Martha Collins. Copyright © 2012 by Martha Collins. Reprinted with permission of University of Pittsburgh Press. All rights reserved.