Volume 22, Number 3

County Lines

These lines go out to Carlos Castelan,
    whom I played trumpet with in marching band.
A mix of white and black, unseemly orange,
    and a sort of cowboy hat the whole band wore,
our uniforms were memorable to say the least.
    Carlos was brown, and I was white,
and I was rich, and he was poor,
    but we wore the same uniforms.
I like to think we both became something
    the other one could not: my friend a soldier
in the Persian Gulf—and me a poet praising him,
    his courage. Despite the fact I don’t agree
with America's wars, these lines go out
    to every soldier who defends us—
but mostly Carlos Castelan, who I respect
    enough to love despite the military
tenets he’s been taught. Picture both of us
    laughing if you can, reaching out
with our trumpets on the football field at night,
    making music we both shared.
We each would march there many times
    as our friends fought new battles in Iraq,
a country we had barely heard of yet. It was
    our senior year. We played our fight song,
“Happy Days Are Here Again,” an ironic tribute
    to our town’s struggling team.
They lost every game because their coach,
    a college lineman in the past,
was too conservative to improvise new plays.
    He would call players "faggots"
on the field. In junior high he told me, “Scott,
    you play like shit,” and I never forgot.
By the time he cut Carlos from the team,
    both of us hated him. The only reason
we showed up was to march at halftime.
    We held up signs that said, “Cuck Foach,”
or just, “Support the Other Team,” until the cops came
    and arrested us, reading absurd Miranda rights
with their black tasers pointed at the centers of our chests.
    Our bodies muscular and tense with joy, we stood up
in defiance, then, protesting what we both believed,
    the handcuffs on our wrists evidence we were brothers.

—J. Scott Brownlee