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Drum Dream Girl

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On an island of music
in a city of drumbeats
the drum dream girl
dreamed
 
of pounding tall conga drums
tapping small bongó drums
and boom boom booming
with long, loud sticks
on bit, round, silvery
moon-bright timbales.
 
But everyone
on the island of music
in the city of drumbeats
believed that only boys
should play drums
 
so the drum dream girl
had to keep dreaming
quiet
secret
drumbeat
dreams.
 
At outdoor cafés that looked like gardens
she heard drums played by men
but when she closed her eyes
she could also hear
her own imaginary
music.
 
When she walked under
wind-wavy palm trees
in a flower-bright park
she heard the whir of parrot wings
the clack of woodpecker beaks
the dancing tap
of her own footsteps
and the comforting pat
of her own
heartbeat.
 
At carnivals, she listened
to the rattling beat
of towering
dancers
on stilts
 
and the dragon clang
of costumed drummers
wearing huge masks.
 
At home, her fingertips
rolled out their own
dreamy drum rhythm
on tables and chairs…
 
and even though everyone
kept reminding her that girls
on the island of music
have never played drums
 
the brave drum dream girl
dared to play
tall conga drums
small bongó drums
and big, round, silvery
moon-bright timbales.
 
Her hands seemed to fly
as they rippled
rapped
and pounded
all the rhythms
of her drum dreams.
 
Her big sisters were so excited
that they invited her to join
their new all-girl dance band
 
but their father said only boys
should play drums.
 
So the drum dream girl
had to keep dreaming
and drumming
alone
 
until finally
her father offered
to find a music teacher
who could decide if her drums
deserved
to be heard.
 
The drum dream girl’s
teacher was amazed.
The girl knew so much
but he taught her more
and more
and more
 
and she practiced
and she practiced
and she practiced
 
until the teacher agreed
that she was ready
to play her small bongó drums
outdoors at a starlit café
that looked like a garden
 
where everyone who heard
her dream-bright music
sang
and danced
and decided
that girls should always
be allowed to play
drums
 
and both girls and boys
should feel free
to dream.
 

Notes:

This poem was inspired by the childhood of a Chinese-African-Cuban girl who broke Cuba's traditional taboo against female drummers. In 1932, at the age of ten, Millo Castro Zaldarriaga performed with her older sisters as Anacaona, Cuba's first "all-girl dance band." Millo became a world-famous musician, playing alongside all the American jazz greats of the era. At age fifteen, she played her bongó drums at a New York birthday celebration for U.S. president Franklin Delano Roosevelt, where she was enthusiastically cheered by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. There are now many female drummers in Cuba. Thanks to Millo's courage, becoming a drummer is no longer an unattainable dream for girls on the island. [note from the author]

 

Margarita Engle, "Drum Dream Girl" from Drum Dream Girl.  Copyright © 2015 by Margarita Engle.  Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Source: Drum Dream Girl (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015)
Drum Dream Girl

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