Volume 113, No. 9October, 2013

John O'Connor


"Musician with Tuba" (2011) by H. Kopp-Delaney

“Musician with Tuba” (2011) by H. Kopp-Delaney

I’m sitting in the chair next to Lester,
the only other tuba in the high school band,
who will be killed at the hands of his brother
three years hence. The crime of the year,
it’ll be all over the small town papers.
The band is rehearsing a Sousa march
as Lester and I burp our notes fat and low,
dotting the lines of the melody like ink
blotches from a leaky pen. Every minute
or so Mr. Meltzer stops the music to berate
the band’s lack of skill and attention
to tempo. He zeros in on the second trumpet,
the chair I held until I had to relinquish it
to a stronger lip for this brass python wrapped
around me. Lester helps me insult the second
trumpet, hoping the oboist, Sylvia, will think us
clever or at least that we exist. It’s easy to forget
the biggest horns in the band, our music
hidden beneath the surface like the rumble
of indigestion. Even our wrong notes go unnoticed.
We sit in back on the fourth level exchanging
dirty jokes during Mr. Meltzer’s staccato lectures;

oompah bears in the back of the toy store, dead
hollow trees in the middle of the forest, begotten
unnecessarily, fourth and fifth children,
our stories told in short spurts, only hinting
at our family secrets. Mr. Meltzer lifts his wand
and I put my flaccid lips inside the ring
of the mouthpiece, pursing them together to spit
my soul through a long dark twisted tunnel.
Sousa needs us to hold up the triumph
of the march, failed trumpets as tuba fodder,
pushing the band forward from behind
where no one can see us, asking the musical
question, how can you miss us if we won’t go away?

John O’Connor is the recording vice president of Local 802. He’s also a guitarist, singer-songwriter and poet. This poem first appeared in The Cape Rock, the poetry journal of Southeast Missouri State University