Christian Barter

Band Camp

We were so proud of our fifths of vodka
lying next to each other in Tom’s trumpet case
like two long crystals harvested
from the dark cave of high school’s first three years
and while less fortunate kids fingered
over and over through that one difficult passage,
Tom and I floated around campus cracking
jokes and chatting up the prettiest girls,
the prettiest, most serious of whom was Amy,
who came up to me after with her saxophone
draped around her tan neck and decreed
that we should all “drink beers” that night—
me having used that ridiculous line when we met—
and, lo, she had already gotten some
drooling 21-year-old from town
to stack them behind a bush, and when
after a day of careening back roads
in her friend’s mom’s car and belting with Tom
the Doors and whatever else came to mind,
the other kids were jerking uncomfortably
to that summer’s teeny-bop at the band camp dance,
Amy and I strolled beneath those genuine
college campus trees, making out
whenever we felt like it. I see that I have
descended again to loving those days, though
when I woke up in the middle of the night
remembering those two bottles nestled in the case,
I was thinking what a waste I had made
of band camp, that but for drinking, and drugs later,
and all those tan necks, I might have been
a real musician in a real ensemble, wearing
an honest-to-God bowtie, gliding
through important passages. One of those
nights, before I went back to the cave from which
I was too proud to return letters,
I snuck her into my room where
in the moonlight on clinically white bed sheets
I revealed myself as a klutzy sixteen-year-old
and she as a good Catholic. After doing
nothing of lasting importance, exhausted, half-
crazed and half as someone woken up
after a long sleep, and having no idea
what a regretful, sober man I would be
at thirty-two, I said, “I love you,”
and she said, “Do you mean it?” and I, having
not yet learned the scales, the passages
of “I don’t know,” said, “Yes.”

Christian Barter
Band Camp first appeared in the North American Review, Nov-Dec 2002.
Poem, copyright © 2002 by Christian Barter
Appearing on From the Fishouse with permission of the author
Audio file, copyright © 2005, From the Fishouse