Nails are silent
till the hammer swings.
Muscle whets muscle
when music rings.
Rocks won’t sing
till the riverbed fills.
Water wears rock
as it rolls downhill.
Flute can’t speak
till you hollow the bone:
Finger the holes
and blow through the bore!
Iron sharpens iron
in a forge called life.
Nails are silent
till the hammer strikes.
After harvest, talking flutes announce the wrestling season.
Villagers gather to flute tunes by moonlight
to watch their young men wrestle.
The wrestlers’ bodies glow like molten bronze;
their muscles are ripe as millet, full to the husk.
All summer, their arms planted and reaped.
Now, like the musician, who first carves a flute,
then fills it with his breath,
the wrestlers stand apart,
then improvise and flex.
I know women and girls who walked five miles
To gather water. After market, they stopped
At a well next our house to replenish jars;
Then balancing, walked smoothly westward.
I sat on the doorstep to see the sunset:
Their silhouettes wavered through the millet,
Sky and field rushed in gold and salmon,
Their silhouettes flickered like blue flames.
A neighbor used to watch. I thought he
Relished in the sun, as I did, and the smell
Of sunset, which is yeast and resin.
I respired air rank with amber liquor, but
He was inebriated with the female figures,
And when the women disappeared,
The colors swarming in the sky went out
As if their wicks had crumpled.
Now a woman walks.
Her legs move through the dark
like twin canoes
riding ocean waves.
Now a lamp hums.
Around a globe
a microcosm of the daylit world
clusters: woman, man,
and a team of insects
that beat against the globe
like children’s feet against a soccer ball.
night is a blue wood
peppered by your wings
numerous as salt grains
in the ocean water.
The corral is empty now.
Blue-gray wood, weathered and worn,
corrals the grass.
Only a buffalo
lies tethered here—
her enormous white trumpet