Banjo Origins: The Pleistocene

banjo hand

They say the banjo evolved here, like the horse & the cheetah, only to go extinct after the first influx of human immigrants. Siberian hunters would’ve known the use of a taut hide for calling ancestors, but add strings & perhaps the other world gets too familiar, like a mammoth looming out of the fog or a short-faced bear, the sudden bone knife of a moon — things best kept at arm’s length. Imagine calling hai ai ai & hearing plucked strings respond with a hee and a haw, dancers turning from a shuffle to a caribooted tap. Maybe the spirits started joining in instead of waiting for a properly trained shaman to come visit.

No one knows exactly why the first banjos died out, but unaccustomed to humans & our devious forms of disguise, the way we wear others’ skins & paint ourselves the color of life when we mean to kill, the banjos would’ve been easy prey, ripe for the picking. Picture that last & most furtive banjo, its store of songs incomprehensible to anyone but itself, how silence must’ve made it taciturn & given it the uncanny ability to hear, by pressing its one enormous ear to the earth, whatever might’ve been coming on the lone prairie.

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