Published on Academy of American Poets (https://poets.org)


[ 14 ]

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

Credit


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

Author


Martha Collins

Martha Collins was born in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1940.

Date Published: 2012-01-01

Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/14