I wanted to learn to play the trumpet
so I could play taps and bugle it afterschool,
standing at the top of the jungle gym.
I thought all the 5th graders would be quite
impressed by that.
But when the serious blonde from the Junior High
came that one Wednesday;
The band director— with all that beautiful shiny brass;
I wanted to hold each one up and blow,
but lacking the nerve for all that,
I told her I wanted to play the trumpet.
She asked me to hold out my hands, so I did.
“The other way,” she said, so they flipped.
“Wiggle your fingers,” she asked, so I did.
“Wiggle faster,” she demanded, so I did.
“No. No. You will play trombone,” she decided.
I didn’t argue—
but she saw my flush of disappointment, swollen.
“A big-tall boy like you will really stand-out for all the girls,
learning to slide that instrument,” she told me— while
performing a quick pull on it herself.
That was all I needed
to hear. I went home and told my mother
how much better the trombone fit my size.
My trombone instructor had a tiny closet
for lessons inside the high school.
It stunk of linseed oil and grape bubblegum.
He wore a yellow rubber rain slicker,
even on dry days. I thought he was quite weird.
Dark brown plastic glasses under thin sweeping hair;
He looked almost exactly like Jeffrey Dahmer—
and often had cheeseburgers with extra pickles on his breath.
I was always nervous he was going to try something on me,
but he never did. I think little girls might have been more
Anyway, he was pretty strict and always harassed me
that I needed to be practicing more; Watching TV less.
But it wasn’t that I wasn’t practicing enough. I just
wasn’t a very coordinated kid, being trapped in T-Ball
through 2nd grade as evidence.
One day, after he was an exceptional asshole,
I told my dad, “This guy sort of freaks me out.”
Dad didn’t argue.
I got hooked up with a new private instructor.
He was fairly young, super cool, and in addition to trombone,
he could play the drums. He recognized I was just eleven.
Told me I only needed to be as serious about the trombone
as I was about girls. “You’ll get into it more in high school,”
he said. He was right. By sixteen, I had wished I had stuck
with learning an instrument— if not for me, then
for the girls.
He told mom and I on the day I quit—
“Matthew might want to try the drums. Something more percussive.
He seems to have a real knack for picking up a beat.”
He was right— but still;
I tend to favor reading poets besides just Ginsberg and Burroughs.