Please Marry Me

By Charles Baxter Charles Baxter Read the Q & A

Please marry me. Your mother likes me.
         —Line spoken by an unknown woman, in a dream

We are stretched out on a dingy sofa, and I think
I must be barefoot because a woman whom no one knows
Is massaging the ankle of one leg of mine and the instep
Of the other, all this toward morning, and I have that
Occasional epiphany one has while still asleep
That I am floating down a river
Because I am so happy and all the dismal issues
Have been made tractable at last, and so I say to her
That the late symphonies of Gustav Mahler
Are more lucid if you’re sitting close to, and above,
The orchestra, so that you can see the contrapuntal
Lines moving from strings to woodwinds
And then back again, whereupon this woman,
Sitting (I now realize) at my feet, says, in the full
Heat of our dream life, and in that happiness,
“Please marry me. Your mother likes me,”
And so I wake, not laughing, although my mother

Has been dead for over thirty years, but in wonderment
Over what quality this dream-woman must have owned
To have pleased my mother so that she,
My late mother, would have said, despite her ban
On ordinary pleasantries, that she had liked someone,
Anyone, who might have cared for me, and as I lie
In bed I think of the last movement of Mahler’s Ninth
When the melodic lines go quiet for minute after minute
In a prolonged farewell to music and to life,
Which my mother would attend to in her bathrobe
Late at night, the stereo turned up, blended whiskey
In her highball glass mixed with milk as a disguise,
Leaning back, hand over eyes, silent-movie style
Like Norma Desmond listening as Von Stroheim plays
The organ wearing his white gloves. No, it wasn’t
Mahler, it was Schoenberg, Verklärte Nacht,
Moon-drunk music, mad and inconsolable.

Source: Poetry (December 2010).

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This poem originally appeared in the December 2010 issue of Poetry magazine

December 2010
 Charles  Baxter

Biography

Charles Baxter is the author of nine books, including Gryphon: New and Selected Stories (Pantheon Books, 2011) and Imaginary Paintings: And Other Poems (Paris Review Editions, 1989).

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Poems by Charles Baxter

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Death, Relationships, Family & Ancestors

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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