Operetta for Barbara Donald


[Chorus: female narrator]


Oakland, 1964. A woman is not supposed to play the trumpet. If she does, she is not
supposed to play jazz. If she does, she should not marry a musician. If the woman looks
at her skin and it is white (no skin is white), she should not look at another musicians’
skin and see that it is black (no skin is black). No white woman should play trumpet in a
quartet (saxophone, trumpet, bass, drums), and no white woman playing trumpet in a
quartet should marry the black saxophonist. No + no + no + no + no + no + no + no.


Equals Barbara.


[Enter Donald, mouthpiece in hand.]


  I knew it was there.
    I wanted to, and couldn’t find the words.


  Severe, resistant to advice, he offered
  measures of silence, culled them into piles.


  Evenings he lied — everything was fine.


The Sonny Simmons Quartet. Without work. So what do a husband and wife do?
Rehearse. Rehearse more. Play until they breathe together.


  From the apartment window, buildings
  seemed normal, cars


  regular in their shapes and movement.
  Inside any one, like an egg,


  a life with its voltage, sharable and unsharable.


Certain equations say no. They say this is not what you want. Not what you are prepared
to be. An equation clears its throat: outside the lines, do not color.


  Just not like before
  or what we expected,


But the power of no is not the power to negate. It is the power of having been negated.
Rejection is a box. Undo its creases and look: inside lives an inextinguishable force —
the receiver of no must learn a different path. An alternate method. She must draw a new


  he held my face,
  willing his eyes to talk.


A map is a thing to leave. Hastily folded and pushed under a car seat. With bent corners
in the traveled case of a wind instrument. It says I tried, I came this far. Certainties and
doubts, hunches and dead-ends, it is breath stalled in the hush of a cold sedan on a blue-
black morning. A map is a gift. It is a raised segment of concrete to the unsuspecting
wanderer. Now you’ve found me. Come closer. Listen. There is still so much to share.




    Seattle Times: Described in the book Trumpet Kings
      as "one of the most powerful trumpeters in free jazz,"
      Barbara K. Simmons, known to jazz lovers around
      the world as Barbara Donald (her maiden name),
      died March 23 in Olympia. She was 70. Simmons is
      survived by her ex-husband and five grandchildren.

Laton Carter’s Leaving (University of Chicago Press) was selected by Mark Doty for the Oregon Book Award. Carter's work on other jazz musicians appears in Brilliant Corners: A Journal of Jazz and Literature, Ploughshares, Sycamore Review, and Vinyl.