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“God” by Bo Bartlett

Talking Drum #1

Senegambia, West Africa, c. 18th century


In his call to the marketplace

the griot urges the skin     clasps

the first beat     He will eat tonight

for his message   I am listening

Code of the village that I left

What do you hear     Uh

The journey to the sea’s

moneyed beauty      Proverbs

in my footsteps       Teeth are white

but sit in a bed of blood      There are

many at the market      A noble

is accused of heresy       A man mortgaged

his nephew and bought a lovely

farm       The griot pulls the skin

sings tension on the air     Tomorrow

there will be war     He will

beat on smoke and wood

Who is coming    Uh     The women

brought hot peppers

The fishes’ eyes cry clearly

Listen to Honorée Fannone Jeffers read “Talking Drum #1”

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John Jeremiah Sullivan

John Jeremiah Sullivan has lived in Wilmington, North Carolina, for almost twenty years. He has been writing for the Oxford American for even longer than that—twenty-five years, to be exact—his first piece, an interview with the late songwriter Vic Chesnutt, having appeared in these pages in 1997. He is a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a co-founder of the nonprofit research collective Third Person Project.