Today's poem is by Charles Harper Webb

The Open-Air Recital Survived a Shaky Start

when, in the first movement of the Emperor Concerto,
where Beethoven tries to out-swagger Napoleon,
a woodpecker countered with Bronx cheers.
Next, every sprinkler in the grassy
amphitheater squeaked on, and listeners fled
as if the Little General's cavalry
had thundered, sabers flashing, from the woods.

The "Rondo" took a whopping, too,
when a squirrel in the oak that spread
above the stage, banged acorns off the soloist's head
and his ebony Grand. The setting sun
scorched through dark columns of trees
behind the stage, as the new soloist marched on.
Her blonde hair glowed, angelic as the tones

she drew, just tuning, from her violin.
We strained forward as her hands caressed
the wood. She was deep into
Tchaikovsky's Canzonetta, where he mourns
his unconsummated marriage, when a woman's voice
rose from behind the trees: "Oh God,"
it trilled, a clear coloratura. "Oh, oh, oh!"

What could the soloist do but keep playing?
What could the conductor do but wag
his baton? What could the damp audience do
but shush our children, pretending
not to hear the woman's sobbing obbligato
merge into the theme? And when the finale
began, allegro vivacissimo, and the soloist

lashed her instrument into a gallop,
it seemed natural that the woman's cries
should intensify, and the soloist draw strength
from her as together they approached
that last exhausting run up the scale of passion
toward the summit from which, gasping
and quivering, they flung themselves.

When, paroxysms done, the conductor
dropped his hands, and the violinist (on whose
slim legs, seen through her violet gown, I could
have played a pretty tune) lowered her bow,
the applause that surged up out of the soaked grass
was for the woman in the woods as much
as for the soloist: head bowed, smiling. Spent.

Copyright © 2009 Charles Harper Webb All rights reserved
from Shadow Ball: New and Selected Poems
University of Pittsburgh Press
Reprinted by Verse Daily® with permission

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