About the Feature

after William Basinski

Across the East River he listened
that morning to music loosening
itself from the plastic backing. That
is how sound worked once, a crust
of finely-patterned ferrite applied
to tape. Turning spindles. Sometimes
even music is made to collapse. Cassette
by cassette he transferred the past
into digital, its intricate iron flakes, fed
past the spindles, disintegrating
further. Form, we have been told,
is content. The condition, this means,
for entering the future is destruction.
I click the tiny sideways triangle
the tapes have become. I crank
the volume on my speakers & even
this year it is possible to hear,
still, a sound like an empire
dying. The disintegration loops
again through the news station’s same
stock shots. The sky is blue. Two
planes are pulling themselves again against
the towers’—say it—spindles. Disaster,
the ancients believed, repeated
itself in cycles the stars—sentences
of light—could predict. When Cygnus,
for instance, lifted its neck
above the seven hills, they knew then
the whole spectacular pageant
was over. So, they said, it had risen
the month of Caesar’s slaying. Swan
song—Goths, the Rubicon. History,
Marx teaches, is patterned tragedy
first, then farce. Or first, recall,
the packed Ryder truck buckling
the underground garage. Again. Yes,
never forget. I listen, body sprawled
on the mattress, to the slackening
ambience. It is possible, yes, to hear
here that dejected fanfare humanity
at its final annihilation will play
again for the bored stars. Span
of Orion. Rising Saturn. Those vast
clouds of fire & dust combusting
with no one at all to watch them.



Image by __sarah_

About the Author

Christopher Kempf received his MFA from Cornell University and is now a PhD student in English Literature at the University of Chicago. He is the recipient of a Wallace Stegner Fellowship in Poetry from Stanford University and a 2015 National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. His work has appeared in Gettysburg Review, Gulf Coast, Kenyon Review Online, and the New Republic, among other places.