The National Poetry Review

Christopher Kempf


What remains is wasted rock. Runes
of some gang’s spray-
painted graffiti. The sea’s

scud. Sometime,
however, by the end
of the 19th century, men

had mastered at last the magic
of carburized iron. Light enough,
that new metal, to stretch,

shimmering, far above
their dozen acres of ocean. & so inside
the Pacific the city swam. & such

turbines there were, & slides,
six of them, & springboards. Electric
pumps. In Pompeii,

we know, whole networks
of ducts & conduits brought
to each city block its washing

fountain. Pools
of salt water & fresh. By flushing
plaster in, they are able,

archaeologists, to haul
from the earth exact casts
of the disaster—a dog

on its chain raising
its paws to its face, a family
of four folded

in each other’s arms, the feet
of the youngest positioned
on her father’s shoulders. We know

from graffiti the family’s
name. Petellius. Elsewhere
in the city—Aufidius

was here. Here
I made bread.
in these inscriptions, fixed

as if on a tomb in time
& place, the past
tense presents itself. Scrawled

in the Bar of Prima—we
men, friends
forever, were here. Hostus,

our names, & Gaius. Goodbye. The baths,
when they burned, burned
at midnight & no one

watched them or suffered. One
must imagine rather the spectacular
fin de siècle swimming hall swallowed

in spindrift. The distant
edge of a city on the distant edge
of an empire on fire.

CHRISTOPHER KEMPF is the author of Late in the Empire of Men, which won the Levis Prize from Four Way Books and is forthcoming in March 2017. Recipient of a 2015 National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and a Wallace Stegner Fellowship in Poetry from Stanford University, he currently lives in Chicago, where he is a Ph.D. student in English Literature at the University of Chicago.