children of the drum

“white folks hear the blues come out, but they don’t know how it got there.” —ma rainey

a timeline of music

went from drum call to call for freedom
from plucking on banjos to bondage on a ship
from djembes to django

then crash
on the soil of tobacco cotton sharecroppin
coarse as their hair
coarse as the lashes on their back
coarse as their pain.

harmonized in the key of trauma
traumatized to the harm of being a minor
looking for the freedom notes
slave song rebellion anthem
mapping north like a union soldiers bugle

same fingers
plucking strings of blues
and folk guitars
same fingers
plucking the tear soaked rope from their necks

who but us could unhinge a noose
and turn into an instrument

go through hell, and make gospel
like fire shut up in the bones of a burning cross
baptize themselves in a colored fountain
who but negroes could fry a jim crow
and feed a nation revolution
to the symphony of the iron-hand-bigot called america
the pop of gunshots and police batons like snare
snared justice in the teeth of police dogs

who but colored folk could find the rhythm

in a riot
make jazz out of jail
make a motown out of a march
in formation til the
the soul need a breakbeat
we bass-boom and crack walls
crack glass ceilings
crack babies born in a concrete existence
projects built like mausoleums
forced fed products of experimental
drugs gone viral
viruses gone viral
fame at the expense of an epidemic
[we] pump up the volume and the veins
who but blacks could use needles
to spin back the hands of time
and scratch
the surface of broken history
the one america tries to skip
who but descendants of slave
now only slave to the rhythm
could take generations of suffering
and make genres full of joy
and rising sounds like
black notes are the only reason music exist
how did it get there?!
we took the off-key we were given
remixed it into a resilient medley.
while they try to silence the notes
hit the notes
dead the notes
it is said you can kill a revolutionary
but can’t kill the revolution
when you are children of the drum
people can stop the hearts
but they can never stop the beat

From Chrysalis under Fire (Writer’s Den LLC, 2018) by Roscoe Burnems. Copyright © 2018 by Roscoe Burnems. Used with the permission of the author.