Poverty Sticks

By Daniel Angel Martinez

One autumn Monday morning in fifth grade class the moment came when my school offered the students the opportunity to learn a musical instrument. I looked over the list of choices and made up my mind that I was suited to be a drummer. Why the drums? Because I felt a unified pulse, a rhythm, a heartbeat that permeated my West Denver barrio.

The beat was bold and in the face of the mile-high falutin' clamor it penetrated the muffling industrial clouds that engulfed the barrio. Outside the barrio, there was a maddening noise, a pretentious big-city orchestra constantly tuning up but never completing a song. Inside the barrio, there was sweet harmony, a familiar, no, a familia tune bringing minds, bodies and souls together in a complete heartwarming song. And I was sure I was right on beat with that tune.

By Friday of that week they assigned instruments to those interested. A classmate, Tony Lasados, and I were assigned the drums. We were given forms describing various drumbeats and types of drums to educate us and our parents (in my case it was a single parent, my mother, as my father perished in a car accident a couple of years back) and they let us take home drumsticks and a practice pad for the weekend. On the way home I felt my heart keeping beat with all on earth and in the sky and with all indigenous drums that came before.

That weekend at home I not only made use of the practice pad but I found myself testing the sticks on practically everything in sight. In the kitchen, I tried out the sticks on the table top, the stove top, pots and pans, cupboards, you name it. In the living room, the old radiator heater beckoned the sticks.  In my bedroom, which I shared with three brothers, I got various sounds from one wood framed bed and two metal framed beds. My mother's bedroom and the bedroom shared by two sisters were off limits, not to mention any human head in the house or any part of the family dog, for that matter. 

Eventually, I settled into Sunday evening, putting the sticks aside (much to the relief of my family) and I anticipated and even dreamed about the dawn of a new day, starting with a drum roll, of course; and I would drum up all that was good and right about our otherwise off beat planet. There was indeed a new beat of a different drummer to follow and I was that drummer. In my dream there was resonance in everything the sticks touched and they were but an extension my arms. And such was the dream of a boy with not much in material things but with a vivid imagination.

Come Monday morning, back at school, reality hit with a thud. According to the music instructor the school had only one complete drum set and it was expected of us to purchase our own drums, starting with a snare drum, to practice at home. This was simply out of the question as my mother was barely managing to keep a roof over our heads. I immediately turned in my sticks and practice pad, pretending not to be interested any longer as I surely was not going to put an extra burden on my family. Suddenly, the common noises grew louder and the sound of the indigenous drums faded into the distance.