braying alpacas
Analysis, Memories, Poetry, Quirky, Reflection

“If You Can Do Anything Else”

I am not afraid to move to China or anywhere.
I’m skilled at wielding bravery as if it were courage
and exchanging melancholy for outrageous gusto, as if
I could shave my chin with a scimitar. In trumpeting
lessons that ripened into counseling, Mr. Barber
gave me heavy pearls of wisdom like “the sound,
XP, always the sound,” and “don’t try to track
every molecule in the Universe; I used to try
to do that.” I was 17, a treasure
of my class, and stunned by worries about
–should
— –because
— — –next
— — — — uncertain, I feared.
DB said, “If you can be
anything else, then do that:
computers are replacing us,” he said
about musicians, “but don’t stop playing the horn.”

Door hinges moaned. I had begun unscrewing
cylinder caps on two trumpets, also a cornet,
to use as “realia” in a video vocabulary lesson
disguised as a math tutorial for hypothetical
children in China in “training schools”:
after-school schools because wealthy
parents misconceive more school as education.
I practice posing for my lens.
My glinting basement burrow bower displays
legal-pad loose-leaf taped-up
signs, writing-on-the-wall
“You count while I clean my horns”
“parts”, “valves 3+3+3=”, “slides 4+4+4=”
Surprise! A trombone is unhidden! I
rehearse aloud, “it is a BIG slide but—”
—a voice calls from the top of the stairs
and I froze, mortified. I saw
the rim of a mouthpiece, the cup
from which I drank the sound
and the sound drank my breath, its
silver-nickel surface bronzed
by smoldering lips and
tasting like old pennies. “I can’t
do this? I won’t do this.”

This is the knot of explaining — trying
to defeat The Wall by describing the bricks
inside a barrier. Encouraging words are
like a lost honeycomb, a vast grid
of liquid gold in hexagonal caches or
perhaps in bottles buried during prohibition:
well-cured but unfindable. My writing
potential is at all times apparent; for
example, when a college band director
waxed uncertain about my musical prowess
yet praised the prose in my letter-of-intent
— why I’m not writing in writing
in perpetuity, as if apologetics restore
the unobtained progress in praxis, in practicing
perseverance in failure. I wanted miracles:
a metaphysical Kool-Aide-Man smashes
the wall with saccharine, false-colored, incarnate
delusions, a powder-packet proficiency.
My fiction professor gave me a braid
of sweet-grass as medicine. I lost it, though
I don’t know where or when.

Fear drives me
toward anything else. Writing could be
an anything, a non-musician occupation,
but
it’s complicated, for
me, and complex, also, both,
since I understand the difference
between how words
denote, connote, strike notes. I continue
looking for another any other anything and
“redundant, again” is my refrain, reviewing
declarations of intent from years past, always
chased with a gulp of self-thwarting amnesia.
Fear drives me
to be the alpaca in a sheep pasture. I go into
spaces where I “belong” but not with
nor of “my own kind”. Educators, activists,
monetarily valuable professionals of all kinds
accept my presence in their pens but
I am the animal with the long neck and spitty
attitude, the wonderful and weird, and good
for eccentric specialty items. I am
not just cut from any other cloth; I am
woven from peculiar yarns.

I am a Gemini, one
with a divided nature. I
understand mitosis but
to know is not to create;
to expertly ruminate is like
chewing cud only to spit it
back out. I forfeited
the guiding staff, black dots, intentional
accidentals. Sheet music isn’t actually
music. I freed my ears to digest
aesthetics in an instance, often by error,
and allowing instinct. I found that play
was unconcerned with success and chased
possibilities, relationships, and novelty.
Successful people know the doors, the secret
passage-ways, and the wall’s weak points but
I am not so practical. I can be two types:
musician and writer. There must be only two
ways for me to leave my prison —
as a musician, I fly through a sky-light
where the glass pane is magically gone.
As a writer, I imagine escaping
through the floor, loosening tiles
digging until my fingers are tired
and afraid the tunnel will collapse,
putting me in a grave with my choices
as if I wasn’t
already living in a mausoleum.


The root of the word courage is cor—the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage had a very different definition than it does today. Courage originally meant “To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.”

~unattributed on the internet, attached to a broken PBS-Parents link

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