First Love
by Kali Lightfoot

Do you remember me
from Junior Symphony?
I sat behind you
in the trumpet section,
you played the bassoon,
ungainly pipe of exotic beauty.
Old glowing wood and ivory,
metal keys, long curving metal tube
and double reed
that ended in your mouth,
Elena McCloud.

Your breath
gave us the sound of ancient
old growth forests
moaning in the wind
and gnarled trees laughing
at the antics of magical beasts.

Even during rehearsal breaks
the reed was in your mouth,
nestled in a corner
staying moist.
You made your own, I recall,
a fiddly, persnickety process
of shaving bamboo
and wrapping it
in complicated

I picture you teaching
music somewhere, laughing
a deep, rich, bassoon laugh.
I loved you, Elena McCloud,
the person of you,
the sound of you, though
I didn’t know it then.
I could not have known it then,
had no words
to talk about it then.

It took years to learn
the language of myself,
to accept my love of women,
and understand the place
your music took me,
sitting amid the brass
and wind
and complicated strings.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: The summer I was 17, I played taps every evening at Camp Merrie Woode, a Girl Scout camp near Plainwell, Michigan.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I came out as a lesbian to myself and to the world at age 40. But as I looked back on the previous years, it became obvious to me that I had loved women all along and had simply been in terrified denial. By going through the process of getting sober, I realized that part of what I was drinking over was the fear of who I really was. “First Love” is about the first of several teenage crushes that I retrospectively identified. I was 17 and a junior in high school at the time I have written about here. Prior to that time my crushes had been on movie stars (Deborah Kerr, Ingrid Bergman), not someone sitting 15 feet away from me.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kali Lightfoot grew up in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and now lives in Salem, Massachusetts. Her poetry has appeared in Illuminations 29, Split Rock Review, the anthology The Wildest Peal, and received an Honorable Mention award from the Science Fiction Poetry Association. Recently, her reviews of poetry books have appeared in and Green Mountains Review. Kali has an MFA in Writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts.