In Praise of Blank Cassettes
Their labels were emblazoned only
with the trademarks of their manufacturers:
Phillips, Maxell, Sony, Memorex.
I filled in the rest myself, armchair creator,
backseat DJ waiting anxiously
beside the boom box in my room until
that song reclaimed the radio, fingers
pressing PLAY and RECORD in unison
as I prayed the on-air personality
wouldn’t botch the ending with his prattle.
Experts routinely credit the telephone,
but mixtapes spelled the end of my love letters
(a blessing, since my young left-handed script—
half rigor mortis and half seismograph—
befuddled more frequently than it enamored).
While others prospered by the crafting of bold,
bubbled vowels and chiseled consonants,
by the precise folding of pages ripped
decisively from wide-ruled spiral notebooks,
it was in the compilation of brief tracks
(tunes which enticed, then pleaded) that I excelled,
those missives made of ballads snatched from the airwaves—
just as swallows were ensnared in nets for counting,
but released again into an evening breeze
where they soon warbled…so my ardent tapes
alighted shyly on the waiting palms
of Katie, Jennifer, and Monica.
by Peter Vertacnik from The Nature of Things Fragile (Criterion Books 2024), winner of the 23rd New Criterion Poetry Prize
Cover design: Carl W. Scarbrough