Karen Paul Holmes

Unrest or What the French Horn Can Teach You
January 24, 2024 Holmes Karen Paul

Unrest or What the French Horn Can Teach You


To master the French Horn, you need lips of steel
though lips were made for softer things than brass.
You will call them “chops” and wear a permanent dent
dead center on the uppermost. Learn to turn
the horn end over end to dump the “water” (your spit)
on the floor.


You’ll sit under a conductor’s baton
waiting     waiting       waiting   for your cue
then have to hit the right note…
a slippery proposition, given the tiny mouthpiece
three valves and twelve feet of cold, coiled tubing.


Don’t attend National Music Camp with braces on your teeth
gain ten pounds that summer gorging at the Melody Freeze
nor date the cocky principal horn. Instead
choose maybe the cute tuba or kind trombone
who’ll end up in the Chicago Symphony. And remember
brass players make the best kissers
based on informal, conservatory surveys.


Most importantly, have the guts to admit
it was you – 16 and too excited – who honked
on the quarter-rest in the final moments of Beethoven’s Fifth.
Otherwise at 62, you’ll still feel bad about whipping
your head to look at the player on your right
implying she was the hack and not you.


Karen Paul Holmes won the 2023 Lascaux Poetry Prize. Her second book is No Such Thing as Distance (Terrapin), and poems have been featured on The Writer’s Almanac, The Slowdown, and Verse Daily. Journal credits include Valparaiso Review, Diode, Pedestal, and many more. She hosts the Side Door Poets in Atlanta.