with the beating of a drum

jay leeming • winter/spring 2017


On my resumé I claimed to have “implemented
large-scale mailings to multiple clients” which is to say
I had stuffed envelopes. Entering corporate America
I knew I had to amplify my experience to survive,
to inflate my language like an African bird puffing out
his red breast, to appear large and important
like a rapper in baggy pants or an ancient Greek warrior
wearing a bronze helmet with a plume so big
it almost touches the ground. Always an undertone
of violence in the cubicle, a trace element inherent
in every Post-it note and pen. I alphabetized,
I faxed, I copied and for my labors was granted
altitude, stints in higher offices where I overheard
lawyers swearing about senators and a boyish executive
describing his helicopter. I remember looking down
from the window at St. Patrick’s Cathedral
far below, clumps of tourists on the stone steps.
Corporations tend to value height as though
that ensured their safety, every office tower
harkening back to some high hill in angry Babylon
from which any invader could be seen. Many years
before the temp agency assigned me to the 30th floor
I ranted and sang with a crowd of others in front
of a corporate headquarters, necktied men staring
at us from the glass windows as though hungry
for whatever we had to give. We circled the block
chanting to the rhythm of a big buffalo-skin drum
which it took eight Sioux Indians to carry,
its steady thunder sinking into the city streets filled
with sewer pipe and powerlines and fiber-optic cable.
A different kind of communication, the sound
of that drum an ancient word and each repetition of it
a deeper way of saying. Because you must show the gods
the strength of your commitment, because every
beat of the drum had to be given fiercely to the wind
as though it too were hungry for that blessing
which it devoured as a bear devours honey
which it snatched deliriously and forever away.

JAY LEEMING is the author of the poetry books Dynamite on a China Plate and Miracle Atlas. His poems have appeared in a wide variety of magazines, and he has been a featured reader at Butler University, Robert Bly’s Great Mother Conference, and the Woodstock Poetry Festival. He has taught poetry workshops throughout the United States and abroad, and is the recipient of a Creative Writing Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. He makes his home in Ithaca, New York, and teaches there through the Green Horse Poetry School, which he founded.