"ma guitare et moi,
nous ne son quittons pas"

Weathered by the sea air,
face broken by a drunken sailor
she had seen better days.
An empty shell casing in her throat
kept her singing for Wes Western,
troubadour of the USS Guam.

How Richard came to own her is not certain,
but he gave her up in a minute
for my shiny steel-stringed piece of crap.
It made better noise, he said.

When Robin learned of her whereabouts,
he moved in with us — just to be near her I'm sure.
And she sang for him every morning, every night.
He never learned to read music,
but he knew how to make it.

Teach me to play, I begged.
Patiently he tried but he was a musician,
not a teacher.
I watched him, listened in rapture
and finally taught myself to play Greensleeves
and the House of the Rising Sun.

I listened religiously to the strains of Segovia and Atkins,
to Williams and Clapton and several lesser gods,
and yearned for their magic to reach my fingers.

A night class at the junior college armed me
with knowledge of body parts and chord progressions
and gave me a non-transferable "A+"
— but didn't teach me how to play.

Then I met him.
Lee Howard, Esquire the sign said.
Guitar Lessons, inquire within.
He sweated a lot
and used a little too much grease in his hair.
The music store was his bread and butter.
His life was playing country western music
at the West Forty Club.

Can you teach me to play classical guitar? I asked.
I can teach you how to play chords,
accompany songs, he said.
I want to play the songs of the gypsies...
not Blowin' in the Wind.

He looked at me. Strictly classical?
He smiled. Well, first you'll have to kill a cat.
With that we entered into a contract agreement
and struck the first of many compromises:
we would go with nylon strings.

I was diligent. He was a taskmaster.
I practiced in the morning and at night.
My family moaned when I picked up the guitar
so I practiced in the far corner of the back yard
on an overturned milk crate.

I learned all of the stupid little ditties he threw at me
but longed for the day when I could play
Albeniz, and Tarrega and Sor.
We changed the time of my lessons
so no one followed me.
The half hour turned into an hour —
and sometimes more.
He never charged me for the overtime.

And sometimes he would say,
Will you give a little listen to this piece I wrote?
and the weeks turned into months.
I could see that there was no magic in these fingers.
They would never keep pace with the music in my heart.
We both knew my dream was far out of reach.
but there was magic in the teaching and the learning.
And sometimes it was hard to tell who was doing which.

Lee is long gone;
his liver claimed by Jack Daniels.
The guitar sits in my living room.
She gets new strings once in a while in case
Eric Clapton or Robin Tougas should happen to drop by
and I play the songs of the gypsies —
Albeniz, Tarrega and Sor —
on my boom box.

©1995 Carrie Berry