Seven-Sided Box

 

Organ/ASLSP  (As SLow aS Possible) is a musical piece composed by 

John Cage and is the subject of one of the longest-lasting musical 

performances yet undertaken. It was originally written in 1987 for organ and 

is adapted from the earlier work ASLSP 1985; a typical performance of the 

piano piece lasts for about 20 to 70 minutes.  In 1985, Cage opted to omit 

the detail of "exactly how slow the piece should be played".

 

The current organ performance of the piece at St. Burchardi church in 

Halberstadt, Germany, began in 2001 and is scheduled to have a duration of 

639 years, ending in 2640.

 

It begins as it must with silence—20 months of it—enough

      time for an elephant

      to birth (which I did not see on television

 

the other night—but the calves seemed impossibly happy

      as they played—

      each moment, head-butts and hi-jinks,

 

flopping down in dirt, cooling mud—

the lead female shaking

      her tonnage when the camera veered too close—

 

audio muted—trumpeting

 

danger)  The organ itself is simple—as if

      they had taken

      the vocal chords

 

of a whale and set them on a cold floor.

      Two box shapes—

      something framed like a roof between them—

 

upright pipes.  You could set in the space

      an incredibly

      large bird.

 

Something extinct—

 

a dodo—or something just for the joke of it—

       a startled

      ostrich.  Either way—bird,

 

whale, African elephant—it is one sustained cry.

      And then

      another.  Each movement,

 

the span of a human life.  Eight

      movements

      total, one repeated.  A seven-sided

 

box.  Lead weights

 

and battery back-up until the organ dies

      or the money

      dies.  Or—who can think that far ahead?

 

Make your own list here.  Begin and end

      with God,

      China, the Korengal Valley, bad music,

 

the structure of drought, cartilage released

       from the bone,

debt like a ball peen hammer coming

 

to us all.

 

One drenched pelican is about as far as I can think

      into the future.

      It is not even

 

a whale’s breath into a flurry of squid.

      It is not even

      the loneliness of a bull elephant bulking up

 

so he can fuck a sow.  That’s hope.

      Something

      to push beyond our deaths. A little

 

architecture of egg

 

and sperm in the womb.  Word in the ear,

                 mu-

       sic, next chord.  In 2004, they added a pipe

 

to sequence a pair of E’s to an A, C, F#.

      A blind man

      came to hone his senses.  Those that could see

 

to sit in the presence of the notes sustained

      (perhaps)

      beyond endurance.  How long

 

before you hum along,

 

or the sound disappears into the sonic fabric?

      You have to go away

      to make it

 

come again.  Which is just fine.  The church

      is cold.

      The exterior beaten to death—

 

a discarded tooth of God.  And then

      that chord

again.  Same chord.

 

The waves shooting

 

vertically like a stake into the floor of Heaven.

      It means

      Nothing.  It means everything.

 

It is spirit and not spirit.  It pulses

      and modulates

      as stones cool, as pipes

 

warp, as wind pushes against the wavelength.

      As our own bodies’

      heat influences the swell.

 

So it is

 

not elephant or whale, but rather

      sparrow,

      wren,

 

one fat spider sailing in a neglected

      corner

      on a silken thread.  Something (what?)

 

sliding down as in the horror film I watched

      a piece of

      the other night.  Just

 

killing time.

 

Hammering nails into that intractable cross.

      Head, unfocused.

      Feelings, unfocused.  Inevitable death...  As Slow

 

aS possible, yes—each instant burns

      and makes

      its noise until spins into nothingness.  No

 

flash.  Fan blade in the third floor window

      propelling

      the house

 

like an invisible boat...  Steve Earle on the hard drive…


________________________________________


Dennis Henrichsen has published six full-length collections of poetry, most recently Rip-tooth (2010 Tampa Poetry Prize) and Kurosawa's Dog (2008 FIELD Prize). New poems of his can be found in FIELD, The Journal, The Literary Review and The Portland Review, and online at diode, Hunger Mountain and Solstice. He lives and teaches in Lansing, Michigan.