Medicine Show (1)

This entry is part 13 of 34 in the series Breakdown: The Banjo Poems


“The banjo is a well of souls.”
—Scott Didlake, gourd banjo maker

The first mate goes round
unlocking the ankles of 20 at a time,
a wet cloth tied over his face against the stench.

Now come the crackers,
now come the leather-tongued snakes.
Welts rise like anthills on calves & shoulders.

Get up! shout the pink-faced men
as they drive their rapidly declining stock up on deck.
You’ll die if you don’t start moving. Dance!

Those with chained feet make music
for those with chained hands.
And half-atrophied as they are

the muscles remember
what the human being wills itself to forget,
claw finger, hammer thumb,

the firmness of a taut-skinned earth
trembling under the organized tromp of feet.
The calabash carries

the burden the singers croak:
going, going, gone.
Legs like flames on the savanna flare & die.

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