Listening to Messiaen’s “Quartet for the End of Time” at the Toledo Museum of Art
The audience across from me comprised of Frans Hals
burghers and their wives, ruffled collars and coarse
snoods, who tip their stern heads in rapt
appreciation, as they recognize bird songs
from picnics and country outings within the music.
They all seem ready to flash open their black
gowns to reveal gleaming trumpets cinched to their black
undergarments and blow furiously in this vast hall,
so all four players might cast aside their sheet music
and instruments and dance—with the rest of us, of course.
Though afterwards they’d have to renounce this song
and replace it with silent motionless rapture.
And thus, Messiaen, burghers, all of us, wrapped
and enfolded into eternal blackness
beyond the reach of any song.
For now, though, in this peopled hall,
where measured time proceeds on course,
we let it maneuver through us, this music
composed in a Nazi prison camp, music
that today keeps the museum guards in rapt
forgetfulness of their duty, to kick out coarse
sound and movement, to keep the black
clad musicians undisturbed, to usher from the hall
those mothers whose infants’ songs
won’t be bottled-up. Messiaen’s song
only partially pleases the burghers, for whom music
is only good when it draws huge crowds into the halls
of commerce, and goods can be sold and wrapped.
They emerged after the catastrophe of the Black
Plague and thrived, unmolested in their lucrative course
until the early 20th century. Of course
collapsing when fascist marching songs
and swastikas and black
armbands cuffed and plundered music.
For now, there’s only this rapturous
Requiem, unconstrained in this or any hall.
Leonard Kress has published poetry and fiction in Massachusetts Review, Iowa Review, Crab Orchard Review, American Poetry Review, Harvard Review, etc. His recent collections are The Orpheus Complex, Thirteens, and Braids & Other Sestinas, and Walk Like Bo Diddley (to be released this fall.) He teaches philosophy and religion at Owens College in Ohio and edits creative non-fiction for Artful Dodge.
The Ekphrastic Review
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