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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 Ió 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

Martha Collins

White Papers
University of Pittsburgh Press


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