The Babalus

Musical instruments wail as the truck rolls
under the train trestle. We exercise the echo—
I bang my buffalo drum, Joe slams his congas,

Sandy shakes her tambourines, the kid
in front pounds his vibes, the guy in the back
goes full throttle on his drum kit.

Sunlight flares as the truck turns right. Crowds
on both sides of the street wave as we restart
whatever rhythm we were playing.

Every July 4th in Ridgewood, Joe hires out a flatbed
truck usually used to ship construction lumber.
Signs remembering Joe and Sandy’s friends

who passed in the prior year surround a frayed
banner with the name of our group— The Babalus.
We tie down our instruments and chairs and hope

to be the last float in the parade. Some years
they put us between a screaming fire engine
and a shrill ambulance, but other years are better.

When it rains hard, I cover my doumbek and djembe
in black garbage bags, water spraying on every beat.
Near the end of the parade route, we stop in front

of the Elk’s Club where Joe and Sandy’s friends
watch the procession and we play for a minute or two.
After the bows, we drive past the town’s reviewing

stand as the announcer reports how many
parades the Babalus have performed in.
We never won best of anything, our annual

get-together with no uniform, little rehearsal,
and an uncertain roster, but soaked or sunburned,
for all of us, drumming is breathing.

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