She runs her hand on the side of her family’s drum.Wipes her hair from her eyes as she bends and studies the tight sinew on pulled edges.Hand smarting from forbidden taps to the surface.
Fingers itching from the circulation.
Thump thump thump
She picks up the drumstick, pace quickening as she whispers the gathering chant.
Eyes tight – squeezing tears that drop on worn leather.
They’ll know she’s been there.
He’d told her, “Little girls don’t drum.It’s an abomination.”She’d shame the family.“Know your place.”Her brothers sat at their Great Drum.Her mother cradled her Water Drum.So the sister stood on the side, hands clasped with soprano wails emerging from her obedient lips, until he’d gone.Her father, submitted to the Creator, completing the circle, paying for his honor.
They’d asked him – rid the land of new settlers.This is business.Our burgesses need quality hairpieces.You’ll be paid for each man-pelt.An easy job for you – your people do this.If we were savage, we’d already have them.
Her father, his honor in question told them, “I will not do it.I have a family.This is not the way of our people.Those men have done nothing.You have asked the wrong person.”
They’d laughed at his mention of honor, told him; it’s their hair or yours.Glanced past the brothers to her bare back bent over an anthill.Said hers would do.Commented on her increasing form.Made threats with their breathing.She froze though red ants swarmed biting at her ankles.
Her father rebuked them.Told them to leave.Agonized over his decision.Wondered why they chose him.He wasn’t the youngest or the strongest.He’d gathered his children and asked them to stay close.
These men have been lurking.He’d gotten a message.It wasn’t the hairpieces.These men had been busy.Their wives had not come yet.He put fear in his daughter.“Do as I tell you.Now isn’t a time not to listen.”
The next morning they’d gathered celebrating the harvest – her mother returned from the council.All were together.She’d sat at her mother’s feet gleaning knowledge.One day she would lead them.
Hand fingering a loose cut of buckskin; she listened to news from the Council.Staring at the burn on her mother’s pecan wrist (an ember had jumped there forming a five toed footprint racing toward whisper thin fingers.)
Thump thump thump
Her mother smiled as she played the Water Drum.Swishing calming her soul.Feet flying as they smoke danced.Music deadening the crackle of twigs.Eyes watched with lack of understanding.Nothing stilled their joy.
This was a time of thanksgiving.
The men sat around the drum – striking steadfast.She watched her brothers, hand clasped as she sang her story.Eyes wide as her mother passed her the Water Drum.“It’s your turn to play it.”
Nervous, her hands caressed the sides; finger felt the shape of the cork.Ears tuned in to the subtle swishing.Her first strike was weak.Eyes focused on her.Again, she stumbled.With the last tap, she faltered.Her eyes dropped tears of shame.Her mother took the Water Drum.She was not ready.“Dry your eyes,” her mother told her.
She touched the cheek of her daughter.Screamed as they rushed her.The men emerged from the brush, eyes wild grabbing for the women.She felt a tug at her hair as she lurched back.They laughed and held her ankles.
Her brothers jumped to action with her father.Blood flew in all directions.Her mother grabbed her sharpened antler from its sheath.The earth was painted an unsettled sacrifice.They lashed back with bayonets.Nothing made sense.
Her mother suffered a gash to her arm.Her brother lost the tip of his finger and two attackers lay slain.
Where was her father?
Night fell as they nursed their wounds, making poultices from local greenery.
Not understanding that which was given in the midst of their thanks.
She kept to herself, afraid the inadequate drumming drew bad spirits to the gathering.They told her “This isn’t your fault.These men already hid there.” She wanted to believe it but only remembered her shame and then the attack.
She was overcome with fever.One small gash to her calf was red with infection.Her mother pressed the poultice and made her a healing soup.She couldn’t say Mahk Jchi despite her mother’s instruction.
“Where is my father?”
No one looked in her eyes.
The next morning while all were sleeping she crept to the clearing, saw the trail dragging and followed its brown trickle.At the end, she stood frozen, not believing the sight of her father’s locks strewn across the grasses.
They’d left nothing else. Blinking she sat in the place where she’d stood, heart pounding.She felt his heartbeat around her –
Thump thump thump
She heard his voice in the wind tell her to stand tall. Climbing to her feet her heartbeat was louder. He told her, “This is your rhythm.”She turned to the rustle of leaves behind her – her mother stood with the Water Drum.
“It is time.”
She shook her head and walked past her mother to their home and her brothers.She sat at their drum, grasping the drumstick.You mustn’t sit there… her eyes sent them to silence.
“This is for my father.”
Her head tilted back as she brought down the drumstick.All were silent watching.She wailed Mahk Jchi and they each filed into the seats around the Great Drum and joined her.
The brothers and one sister.
Thump thump thump
She completed the circle, voice ringing the gathering chant.