Some Instances

By Charles Baxter Charles Baxter Read the Q & A
To be free of situations,
To live from day to day without events

And to be free from the need to narrate them.
One small detail, the blossoming crab apple,
For example, on the lengthening boulevard
Of the stanza, this very one,
That parallels the perturbation of the waves
Mid-April—the Mississippi flowing above the locks
Of Minneapolis, once called St. Anthony—
Two blocks away, the river high with snowmelt,
And where this morning I heard the call
Of what I took to be a sparrow, white-throated,
The leap of a minor third
Two octaves above middle C.

Four birds outside this afternoon. Four distinct calls
In a dispirited late daylight.

And you? “You”? Waiting to experience a moment
That has no precedent. The wish to be a child,
Or the wish to be outside of time,
The craving, that is, for a kind of death
In which one stays somehow alert...

Listening to the Schumann Violin Concerto:
Written in that last period as he descended into the madness
Brought on by syphilis when he heard the singing
Of the angels, this piece was thought to be unplayable
Until the metronome markings were ignored;
In the second movement a brief passage comes and goes
Like the frenzied clustering of bees, pure monotony,
Like madness gathering its forces. Clara, Schumann’s wife,
Asked that the piece never be performed, but one musician
Said of his music that all madness contains a kind
Of vulgarity, but even after he went insane,
Schumann’s music retained that odd nobility.

Outside, sounds of traffic, a woman’s cry from down the street.
Idea for a frightening story:
Last week I heard a scream so distant that it
Had lost its call-to-rescue and its horror—dim vehemence,
Like an auto accident seen from a train,
The blood grown small, and the outcries
As soundless as a branch in wind,

Or like a child in snow straggling behind his parents,
The drifts so deep he has trouble making headway,
Being five years old, and so he calls out to them,
“Hold!” because he cannot think of the proper word—
Probably “Wait” or “Stop,”—and when they hear
Him begging them to slow down and to wait for him,
They turn around to laugh. Their laughter makes the child
Sad and enraged, so he stops to cry,
Whereupon his parents, still amused, bring out a camera
To snap a picture of him as he wails.
He understands that his unhappiness
Was a diversion to them both, that they were bored
By children and therefore found him comical,
So there they are, laughing with delight.
Today, sixty years later, he is
Photographed, bundled in his winter coat.
Oh, and the bored laughter, behind the camera,
And the impossibility, the inconsequence
Of any sympathy.

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 Arts & Sciences, Poetry & Poets, Music

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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