Christopher Kempf

Quake Shaker

is the name they’ve given it. This
domed chamber shaking— as shook,
in 1906, the City— as if,
in throes of rage, the great
gods were toppling, one by one, the humbled
planet’s pilasters. City
of the West. Where,
at Cal Academy of Science, we file
past the glass display cases waiting
to enter. To step,
as from the earth entirely, inside
the quaking simulation. The wave,
one display explains, will break
first off the shoulder of the Richmond. City
like a body. The water
rising past Ashbury. Last
week, the way
we imagined disaster was exactly
the same, the wave,
like a mudded tongue, un-
peopling the beaches
of southeast Asia Ewan
McGregor spent
that entire movie making
beautiful. You
should know it is not
water but cholera. Not
the thrilling shift of sea, but we
are annihilated leisurely. Block-
buster. What
swallowed the Sunset wasn’t
the earth opening but slow
& citywide fire. Inside
the chamber a fake
Victorian trembles. The pendulum
chandeliers lurch. A curio
cabinet rattles. Ecstatic
the Shakers named it. The way,
in the great meeting-house, they heaved
their bodies to God. Beyond
the simulated window the City
wobbles on a screen. The Painted
Ladies sway. We keen & cant.

What Happens In Vegas

is almost invisible in the glitter. City
from the sky like a rhinestone. Or see,
rather, what once

the Spanish saw― spread
of green fields fed
       by well. What

the earliest evangelists named vegas. Staging
point. Promise
       of water. Where,

instead, the West
lapped back on itself like a flood & festered. Rent
       desert. Spread

legs of the Empire
Club. Front
       of the Mirage, a man

dressed as SpongeBob beats
the pavement. Off
       Paradise a warehouse heaped

with meat. With sweet-
bread. With stomach & tongue. Touch
       nothing. Or touch

only the lapped mouth money
can buy. I― one
        hooker to another― been working all month

on my moan. Oh,
Vegas. Your vast
        machinery is too much for me. I feel

the fountains of the Bellagio― beautiful
almost― soak
        my face, the same

water washing from the skin of women
the work. Imagine
        that moment. To hold

the yellow, Nickelodeon foam
in your fingers as if
        it could save you. To take

unto your body the costume. Promise,
like flesh, is peddled
        easily & belief

is our dearest myth. Let history,
as in the annals of man, be banished
        to the desert. Let the rest

of the city drink
from its own mouth
        & be drunk.

Christopher Kempf received his MFA from Cornell University, and is a Wallace Stegner Fellow in Poetry at Stanford University. His work has appeared most recently in Indiana Review, The New Republic, and Prairie Schooner, among other places. He currently lives in Oakland.