Both Sides Now

The name of the song meant nothing to me—
what was important was how I grabbed the horn,
flared my hand out over the cornet’s valves
to impress my neighbors in the brass section.
I didn’t know who Judy Collins was,
didn’t like the song, but could somehow
kiss a good sound out of my horn. My idea of beauty
a smooth sweetness of tone, my peers intoxicated
with the embouchure of Herb Alpert.
Squeezing out the high notes, the hurting treble,
their concept of beauty a travesty.
What did we know then about splendor but the smell
of clearing out the spit valve, still with me
five decades later? 1968 was a good year for music.
The band director could have picked a better tune,
but this was the time of assassinations
and he was going for something melodious and soothing.
I knew nothing of both sides then
as I flexed my hand across the valves.
Except for my hand to show the power,
my embouchure for sweetness.

Andy Roberts, a four-time Pushcart Prize nominee, is the author of eight collections of poetry. His latest chapbook is Out Of Blue (NightBallet Press, 2018.)