Daily Archives: March 8, 2022

As Slow As Possible

revised from 2010?

Sept. 5, 2001:

A group of musicians and philosophers begin to inflate the bellows of a church organ in Halberstadt, Germany, in preparation for a performance of John Cage’s piece, “As Slow As Possible”.


Hate’s eyes pop open;
he gets up, dresses,
steps outside.

Hate finds that while most people do not want to talk to him,
there are still others who embrace him, taking him to mean something
he never wanted to be;
and all Hate can do is numbly
submit, for no does not mean no,
when your name is Hate.


Although he’s dragged it with him for so many years,
Hate does not understand his own baggage.


He tries to pretend that his name is
meaningless. He tells himself it’s
simply a breath
pushed through a half smile, ending in a full stop
behind his tongue.

Every other thing it carries
was added by others along the way.


Hate thinks of himself as having had
so much potential.
It’s all their fault
for having robbed him.


“As Slow As Possible” was written in 1944, at the end of WWII, as a piano piece that would last a half hour or so, based on the natural decay of the notes being played. This organ arrangement virtually eliminates the possibility of decay, and creates the space for the performance of an indefinitely long piece of music.


Hate prefers silence.
Assuming that to be a disability, everyone who meets him
offers Hate
a voice to speak through.

When he does attempt to speak on his own behalf,
Hate’s throat cracks.
The edge of his own meaning salts his tongue.
Nothing green can grow there.


The vision of those who now inflate the bellows is that this piece will be played beginning to end, and that the distance between the beginning and end of this performance will be 639 years. The people who will play this music will die before completing their service to the piece. The people who will complete the service are not yet born.


In slack moments Hate tells himself:

“If I were to change careers, I’d be a baker.
All the loaves I baked
would split open at the far end
and grow larger as they were eaten.
You’d never want for more,
would never get to the end of a loaf.


“If I were to marry
I’d pick a partner named Bread Dancer.
If Bread Dancer and I were to have children
they’d be named Easter and Breakfast.
Bread Dancer would dance the bread dance
for each person
who bought bread.


After many years
I would leave the business to my children,
and they would bake for others’ children,
and that’s the way
it would go for as far out
as I can see.”


The church that holds the organ was purchased strictly to house this organ and this performance. It was unused for years, and is now refurbished as a place for the longest music to stretch out. There are still pipes waiting to be installed. This organ cannot even yet play all the necessary notes to complete the piece.


Hate finally moves from his home, burning it
behind him, leaves in the dead hour before dawn,
taking little with him, no ID, no passport.

Hate becomes a monk
on multiple roads,
plays at pilgrim and tinker,
but always ends up a soldier,
always regrets,
turns away,
always, always,


Feb. 5, 2003:
The first chord of the piece is struck upon that organ. Lead weights hold the keys down, and the notes will sound for the next year and a half.


Hate, after poisoning
many years
with his wandering,
discovers the Halberstadt church
and enters to pray
for amnesia.

Everything must be possible, even if it has not yet been imagined.



Midday gusts
push my car
from side to side
while driving on an 
expired license,
just above speed
limits; stalling at
lights — fuel filter,
I hope that’s all 
it is. Hope gets me
home to collapse
where I start to think about 
how expensive gas
has become and
how long till my money
comes again;
and yeah, there’s 
nuclear war and 
my long ago relegated
to a far closet
childhood fears
knocking to come
out. Around here,
we call this Monday
or Tuesday or 
any old day of 
nothing definite
but precipice.