We are listening to Alison Balsom
play Bach. “Do we have to
listen to this?” Amber, eleven,
buckled up in the passenger seat,
balks, bucks. We’re late for school—
her backpack, lunchbox, and violin
ride mutely in the back. She looks
down at the CD box, makes a face:
“Who is Botch, anyway?”
Her violin leaps violently to the floor
as I brake for a stopped school bus.
“It’s not Botch,” I tell her. “It’s Bach—
only the greatest musician who ever lived,
that’s who.” She gives the box a second,
closer look—“Bach is pretty. How old is Bach?”—
frowning at the photo of Alison Balsom
on the cover. “That’s not Bach,” I tell her.
“It’s Alison Balsom. On trumpet. And yes,
she is pretty.” Amber raises her left eyebrow,
then stitches it to its twin. “A girl
playing the trumpet?” And I can hear
the wheels turning, tuning, inside her head
as the school bus trundles dumbly along
and I follow close behind. “There aren’t
any girls who play trumpet in my school.
Only boys.” And Alison belts out another
string of impossibly gorgeous arpeggios.
And Amber looks out the window, scratches
her head. She is listening. I don’t say
a word, pull in behind the school bus, park,
and we sit there for a long time, the violin
on the floor, the trumpet in the air, Alison
Balsom breathing Bach, breathing beauty,
Amber late for school and listening hard.
From The Bad Guys (FutureCycle Press, 2015).
Used here with the author’s permission.