Part 1: Pre-Writing
List five specific places you recall from childhood.
Panama City Muslim Elementary School
The sidewalk between Mom and Baba’s apartments
The band room in Middle School
The two story house with Garfield the cat
The dark bar-type place where Mom and Robert sang and performed
Choose one of those places (preferably the one with the strongest emotional appeal).
List five things you remember seeing there, five things you remember touching, five tastes, five sounds, and five smells that you associate with the place.
See - brand new music stands, Mr. Scott’s old saxophone, the black plastic-back chairs, my tattered music book, my own shiny bass clarinet
Touch – the torn page sides of my All-State music book, the reeds for the mouthpiece, the shiny silver keys of the bass clarinet, the trophies and metals I won, the xylophone
Tastes – the metal taste from the water fountain, the slobbery-wet reed on the bass clarinet mouthpiece, the gum we were caught with, cork grease accidentally rubbed onto the mouthpiece, the stuffy reed of the bassoon
Sounds – the off-tuned trumpet later to become UCF’s drum major Alejandro, my own imitation of the oboe, my five octave range, the xylophone, the percussion when I played an old elementary school march beat
Smells – sweat of the trombone player Scott next to me, the accumulated sweat from too much practice, the smell of my own spit heavy after playing too long, the smell of cork grease, the dust over the brassy instruments
Describe the place (in prose form) without using any abstract words, and carefully select either general or specific details.
It was a brand new room with blue carpeting and dust-free baseboards and window ledges lining the entire back wall. I remember the room being lit adequately with energetic white neon from the ceiling and there were three rows of new black chairs with plastic backings, all making a half-circle around the Professor’s podium and step-stand. The music stands were all heavy black iron and the percussion instruments—an xylophone, a bass drum, snare drum, and cool-looking African drum, were positioned in a half-circle lining the back. The teacher, Mr. Scott, had a bald head and grey hair; one day in the eighth grade he came to class with black hair on the spots of his head that wasn’t balding, and I think from all the laughter, giggling, and whispering, his hair was back to grey by the next day. When he would become frustrated with the band failing to adequately follow his pace, hold the melody, tune to each respective instrument, or follow his decrescendos, he would work his arms in the 2-4 or 4-4 rhythm so fervently that his head would sweat and shine on the back. I sat in the back row, straight across from him. To my left were the trumpets, to my right the tuba, French horn, and trombones. In front of me were the clarinets and saxophones, and in front of them were flutes and, later, a piccolo.
Part II: Drafting the Poem.
The three rows of black band chairs with plastic backings were situated
in a triple half-moon—sapphire specs on a silver necklace with three chains that
all link together by a clasp in the back of the neck—around the director’s podium behind
the door. The second chair flute’s name was Lauren, and her envious eye caused
my reeds to break from under my teeth on my $90.00 mouthpiece
that my single mom couldn’t afford to buy me, but she did
and I wasn’t grateful. The reed tasted sweet when there was just enough saliva
soaked into it—like when I could hear myself hitting five octaves on my school-owned
bass clarinet, in chromatic sixteenth notes articulating on the way up and
letting my tongue rest on the way down. I could see the other
members of the band from the corners of my eyes as I played, some acting nonchalant;
they pretended to be reading their music books or practicing their own
petty scales, but I could tell by the stiffness in their backs and the carelessness of
their own breaths blown into the trumpets and soprano clarinets contiguous to
my imaginary domain that they were paying attention to me. I could
feel the marvel in their eyes—some outright stared at me in shock and
admiration. Some, like Lauren—too prim for the stench of sweat and spit
from the back row of larger instruments—refused to acknowledge that I
was awarded with title of First Chair in state, when she could
barely keep first chair in Indian Trails Middle School band. I
touched the slippery keys; my left thumb till this day has a bone abnormality—a dent
before the conjunction between my thumb and hand—from holding the weight of
an instrument eight times bigger, lower, and louder than a regular clarinet.
Lauren once told me she was happy for me and congratulated me with what
almost seemed like a sincere smile. And that day, I must have broken more
reeds than in a week. The heavy wood of the darkness in my hands
was like a therapy session; when I blew in the doctor came out,
and I would find relief from abuse at home, from depression, even
from myself. “You can improvise on a bass clarinet,” my band director
encouraged me, but I never understood what he meant
or learned how because I quit shortly afterwards. When the “Titanic”
movie came out, everyone would warm up with a primitive
“G-G-G-F-G” transformation of Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On,” and
I flexed my musical muscles by switching up my octaves with
the tune, adding grace notes and my own bits of emotion into the piece. My band
director could fly on his podium, his arms waving frantically to keep
the failing youth band in rhythm and tune. I will never get over my withdrawal from
the bass clarinet—Deeds’s ugly duckling of an instrument that she could
create more with than all instruments combined. That sexy beast of
an instrument was the most important human being
in my life. Kallimni, bass clarinet, because I miss you too. The
instrument would whisper to me in the midst of my sleeplessness on nights when
I would be particularly depressed, and I would rise and remove
it from it’s lonely case. I would play loud into the night—usually my mom would be
out to dinner with a boy-“just-a”-friend who wandered with other women, or a husband who
beat her until their divorce. And I would forget, while I hammered away at level six
pieces, the pain of her words. The next day I would find myself ignoring
the world, sitting in my place on the sapphire band necklace, facing the teacher
and playing my heart out on the edges of those cheap plastic chairs.