Bacchante, Walter Crane


At fourteen, I chose percussion because the drummers were so cute.

Behind the crowd of ululating clarinets, part of a native dance
whirling,  spinning – bass drum to snare, to triangle, blocks, tambourine, 
and        the cymbals

 made to be heard, not hidden.


Hit one with a stick and it shimmers.
       A soft mallet yields a muffled gong.
Brush the edges gently 
       dampening vibrations against the breast,
or perform a full-fledged, triple-forte


cymbal at the peak;	
       the exclamation point!

In a parade I held them close, my brisk chink at the end of each 8-bar cadence necessary 
to keep marchers in step. Sweaty canvas straps encircling wrists, the cymbals grew
heavier with each passing block. Bent for two slow miles, my elbows seemed to lock in 
the cymbal-holding position forever.

One Christmas, our organist planned a special song
for the annual Midnight Service.

Relaxed parishioners were soothed by the lateness
of the hour, the day, the time of year.
The dark sputtered with candles
in the quiet stillness of the sanctuary 
until the moment when I leapt in
        with my forte cymbal crash!

Someone questioned the minister
       about the appropriateness of cymbals in church.

In the New Year, the organist copied a Biblical quotation 
       and posted it on the bulletin board:

Praise the Lord with harp and cymbal.


Years later, I thrill to the Moscow State Symphony
performing Shostakovich’s 5th.

The cymbal-filled finale comes in crashing waves,
one after another, saturating the hall.

This has got to be the end—this has got to be the end—

they keep coming and coming, higher and higher, 
until the sound lifts me up
and pulls me down in an undertow of resonance.

All the sound waves penetrate every corner, every crevasse, 
and my head is filled up with a loud, shimmering horizon 
of silence. 

Holding my breath, 
I know
I will never be the same again.

We find the ground, leap to our feet,
our thunder a blur of white noise
after the stunning of the cymbals. ∎