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I grip the handles of the
Once-prized Christmas present.
The scratches in the purple paint are
Ribbons of glory for adventures dared.
My shiny clarinet is hidden
In a black case beside fragile, deeply grained reeds,
A book about lost lambs and fingering charts;
And clamped into the shiny chrome rack.
It takes courage to pedal up the Benton overpass;
To change trajectory,
And defy the gravity that pulls me
Back toward childhood.

I reach to steady the case
Not yet worn by years of school cubicles
And bus trips where it will be used
As a seat in the aisle, while
I play Hearts with trumpet players.
Or the wood-wind inside carried across astro-turf
Marching 8 to 5, playing 25 or 6 to 4
Or side-stepping on hot asphalt
In the measured dance to the school’s alma mater.

I push forward up the hill;
Summer band is ahead,
And home far behind,
And between is the familiar brick grade school
Where I learned to rhyme, to multiply
And how to love from afar.
Next year a bus will take me
To the sprawling building on the hill
Where the children of professionals
Will pass by my friends
In sterile halls with shiny blue lockers.

Another stroke upon the pedals
I reach the top, and then
give in to the speed downward.
Ahead the road forks with the flow
Of two lanes rushing to the right.
Going straight is less fearsome
With fewer cars and hazards,
Though it will have to be timed
To cross the traffic.
Both ways would lead me to where I’m going.
Life is pushing me forward.

Although, it had already begun
When I was ten
And I traded games among trees
On moon-lit summer nights
For tending other people’s children:
Making dinners, reading stories,
And tucking wide eyes into beds.
Then pacing with a tearful child
And singing softly about rivers.
Returning home to a sleeping house
I clutched the $2.50 in my pocket.
I always set ten percent aside for the Lord
And now, the rest to the clarinet.
My gods were also changing.

Alone on the busy overpass
I missed the escort of family,
Of familiar havens
And mis-aimed good-night kisses.
Twelve is too young to have to choose
I glance over my shoulder and
Cross behind an ancient pick-up,
And think I’ve chosen the safer way.
I am still oblivious of the red-haired boy
Who will sit in the seat next to mine
With his clarinet and wicked smile.