The Drummer

The bodhrán is a belly
that he brushes with the knuckles
of a drumstick—

threads the blood’s rhythm,
thrums the blood’s river,

clutches the drum as shy men
do, dearer than he’d hold
a woman. Rocks in his chair,
caught in the amber glance
of glasses on tables,

listens for the piper to throw him
the head of the reel:

it scampers out between rocks
and he follows it,

stutters his answer
low to the ground, where
the shrew dives down its hole—

reels off, spitting words
we can’t follow, chased
by the tapping of heels.

Then he hands me the drum
like a question—

I run the bones
over tight goat’s skin:

smell of dry grass
loosened by water, on

through the ring
of smoke and sweat, faces

fade and reappear, until

rhythm is a small wild
creature in my hands,

stroking the dark
cheek of the world.

Published in the Literary Review of Canada, October 2010 issue