“Germination” by Sarah Dunster

Young plant: sprout in grace
shedding hull, fishing green headbud
up toward the warmth until the
world–bug-bitten, shale-sloped,
veined and ruled with
thickets comes into
view
 
but don’t despair.
 
Tear
out those leaves
and hold them flat to the sky;
sunburn your veins good and
fill them with new blood until you burst
until you warm your roots underneath
the shifting maze of what would like
to rule you.

“Sonata in Three Movements” by Jeanine Bee

I       Dolce

One of John’s earliest memories is her singing voice, sweet and pitted and gravelly. Not in a deep, growling, Louis Armstrong kind of way, but in the way that water washes over sand—gentle, and just perfectly blemished by a pocked, rushing sound. Her voice, once beautiful and robust, was ever-after spoiled by a childhood bout of asthma, she said. But it was his mother’s voice that read to him every day. It was her voice that pushed him forward when he languished. And it was her lovely, flawed voice that sang him the English “ditties” that filled his head with the melodies and harmonies that would form his life.

Times were lean, but the family made the sacrifice to ensure that their children would be blessed with access to music. John started on the clarinet with weekly lessons and a seat in the school band, while Benny Goodman slowly lost a popular following. But John’s clarinet served him well until the day that his father dared him to make some money with this music business. For his next birthday John was gifted a saxophone, and, after changing his weekly clarinet lessons for sax lessons, he started his first dance band. They quickly enjoyed local notoriety, earning eight dollars for a three-hour gig.

It was a way to earn some money, sure. But it was more than that. It was intoxicating. Delicious. And it was just the opening number.

 

II       Brilliante

John rode the bus with two blue suits, a finely honed sense of duty, and five other untested missionaries to the Spanish-American mission. Three months later his saxophone followed by post.

John’s jazz arrangements became his supplementary gospel discussions. He orchestrated elaborate dances designed to foster unity between the Spanish-speakers and the “Anglos” in New Mexico. He baptized the family members and sweethearts of those participating in his celestial 7-piece combo. Of course, the weekend gigs put some money in his pocket, too.

The branch in Las Cruces was especially in need of some fine-tuning. So John, as District President, transferred himself to the small town just north of the Mexican border. Joan was the first member he met. She had green eyes, a tall, slender frame, and a biting wit, brash like Dizzy Gillespie’s horn cutting through a well-behaved wind section. It shocked John at first; this playful, attractive woman making lunch for the missionaries seemed in complete dissonance with her caustic sense of humor. During that lunch appointment John insulted Joan’s cooking. Then, when trying to casually sit on the countertop, he accidently turned on the stove-top and burned a hole in his pants.

Joan was a self-taught pianist, but what she lacked in formal training she made up for in gumption. So when John needed a pianist for the Las Cruces arm of his mission-wide dance band, she heartily agreed. Members and investigators alike waltzed and trotted and swung around the dance floor to the music so skillfully lead by John and so enthusiastically accompanied by Joan.

That night he wrote in his journal, “I seem to have found my wife here in Las Cruces.”

He immediately transferred out of the area and didn’t return until two years to the day that he had entered the mission field. Four months after that John made his solo a duo.

 

III       Adagio

John was in the room the day his granddaughter came home from fourth grade announcing that she wanted to be in the school band. He handed her the small black case—a flute that Joan had bought from a thrift shop and taught herself how to play in the later years of their marriage. The red velvet lining of the case was worn bare in places, and the flute itself was tarnished from disuse in the years since Joan had been diagnosed with four different cancers. The outside of the case was cold and dusty from being stored for almost a year since she had died. John showed his granddaughter how to tighten her lips and blow over the hole in the instrument’s headpiece. It made a low, hollow-sounding tone that first time, but both her tone and skill improved as she played that flute for the next eight years.

One day, John brought out another small black case. He handed his granddaughter a book of music. They sat down together on a piano bench and he pulled out his old clarinet, wetting the reed as he taught her how to swing her notes. He gave her a downbeat and they read through the arrangements of “Satin Doll,” “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” and “Five-foot Two.” They played on Sundays after church and on weekends at her high school band fundraisers. They played at family gatherings, and when everyone was together he would even get out his saxophone and a stack of old, yellowing scores, tattered with use. Sometimes they pulled together a five-piece band. Other times it was just a duet.

The February before John died, his granddaughter visited home with her husband and two kids. John’s hair had thinned from the chemotherapy, and his chops weren’t as strong as they used to be, but he still opened the music book. Together, they sat at the piano and swung through “Satin Doll.” He was a little slower than he used to be. A little quieter. His tone was marked with static and intermittent squeaks—a result of his weakened embouchure. But it was that lovely, flawed tone that sustained his granddaughter a few months later at his funeral. The final, lingering notes of a song.

 

Coda       Animato

A husband, two kids, and a new pregnancy meant her flute had grown cold in the year since her grandfather’s death. But one day “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” came on in the car. She felt a jump, low and deep in her belly.

A life quickening to the Duke’s swinging ivories and the sultry sound of a jazz saxophone.

“Celestial Accounting” by Katherine Cowley

Subject: 1st Ward Sacrifices Report

From: jodi.schmidt@celestialbooks.org

To: ana.pereira@celestialbooks.org

Dear Sister Pereira,

I created a summary of the sacrifices by 1st Ward’s members last year. As you can see, I’ve tried to focus on the big picture. For example, on average, each ward member had 1.7 major sacrifices, 15.5 mid-level sacrifices, and 200 minor sacrifices over the course of the year.

Sincerely,

Sister Schmidt

 

Subject: Re: 1st Ward Sacrifices Report

Dear Sister Schmidt,

You’ve put great efforts into this, and it’s a great start, though it’s not quite what I’m looking for. Do you think could give it another pass? Perhaps you could make it less of a summary and a bit more comprehensive.

Also, have you read the book of Numbers? It’s my favorite Old Testament book.

Sincerely,

Sister Pereira

 

Subject: Re: 1st Ward Sacrifices Report

Dear Sister Pereira,

I’ve added some statistical analysis, as well as a section on ROI (return on investment) in terms of sacrifices and resulting blessings. I’ve also added a section explaining how I determined the difference between a major, mid-level, and minor sacrifice.

I’ve also added 20 graphs which break down the sacrifices into category and illustrate the efforts of ward members visually. You may find the outliers interesting—while most ward members had 1.7 major sacrifices, one ward member had 8, while a handful of ward members had 0.

At your suggestion, I reread the book of Numbers. My favorite Old Testament books are Ruth and Esther.

Sincerely,

Sister Schmidt

Subject: Re: 1st Ward Sacrifices Report

Dear Sister Schmidt,

I have never seen such beautiful charts. You have a real skill with number crunching.

I’m a little worried that we’re losing sight of the individuals in the ward who performed these sacrifices.

Also, what did you think about Numbers 7?

Love,

Sister Pereira

 

Subject: Re: 1st Ward Sacrifices Report

Dear Sister Pereira,

I was an accountant during my life on earth. Numbers come easily to me.

I can’t believe I forgot to include the ward members’ names. I’ve added a complete list of names at the end of the document, after the charts.

Honestly, Numbers 7 is a little dry for me. Each of the Twelve Tribes contributed the exact same offering—an assortment of silver bowls and spoons and gold and incense and all manner of animals. Instead of spending verses 12 to 83 listing the same contributions twelve separate times, once for each tribe, they could have just said something like, “Each of the tribes, on their own appointed day, brought the following offerings,” and then listed them once. That would’ve taken only 6 verses instead of 72, and would be much more readable.

Once you’ve approved my file, let me know. I look forward to moving on to a new project.

Sincerely,

Sister Schmidt

 

Subject: Re: 1st Ward Sacrifices Report

Dear Sister Schmidt,

I am sorry if this project is frustrating you. Keeping the celestial books is a gigantic task, and I really appreciate the time and effort you’ve put into this so far.

I’m asking everyone on bookkeeping to pray about the best way to fulfill their tasks. Do you think could pray about this project and take one last pass on it?

Love,

Sister Pereira

 

Subject: Re: 1st Ward Sacrifices Report

Dear Sister Pereira,

I’m sorry it has taken so long to get back to you. After praying about it, I decided to start over from scratch.

I reread Numbers 7 and I think I understand why each of the tribe’s contributions is listed separately. It’s because each of our sacrifices is significant, and is noted by the Lord. Even if it’s something someone else also sacrificed, He still finds my personal sacrifice significant, and will take note of it.

I’ve decided to pattern my report after Numbers 7, giving each person a section. I still haven’t included every minor sacrifice (there were about 200 per person, and they are all listed in the daily life records I drew from) but I did try to create a sort of portrait for each person for the year.

For example:

The offering of Sophie Chen to the Lord. This year, Sophie stayed faithful to her testimony through two rounds of chemotherapy. She wrote letters to the women on her visiting teaching route every month, even when it hurt to hold a pen. She found beauty in nature and appreciated the world the Lord has given. She stood with her children through their trials, took care of three grandchildren when her daughter was ill, and learned to ask forgiveness from her family members.

Let me know if there are any changes you would like made.

Thank you for your patience with me and for giving me time so the Spirit could teach me what I needed to learn.

Love,

Sister Schmidt

 

Subject: Re: 1st Ward Sacrifices Report

Dear Sister Schmidt,

Great work! Your final report on the 1st Ward sacrifices for the year has been added to the celestial books.

And don’t worry—I’ve kept all your previous work. The charts and the graphs weren’t quite right for this project, but I think they would be perfect for a new book I’d like to start. Could you prepare a presentation on the analysis techniques you used to give to the department next week?

Love always,

Sister Pereira