A Mixtape: “Don’t You (Forget About Me)”
Think of the tender things that we were working on.
Such a delicious pain in the ass to make,
on a double deck if you were lucky,
otherwise you had to drop the needle
onto the precise groove as your left
index hit PLAY/RECORD, taking all
afternoon or many. Mistakes, thinking
too hard about what you wanted
to tell the person but couldn’t say
any other way. It was always
“I love you,” didn’t you know?
Mix tape: private language, lost art,
first book, cri de coeur, X-ray, diary.
An exquisitely direct and sweet
misunderstanding. We weren’t
fluent yet but we lived in its nation,
tense and sweaty for an anthem.
Receiving a mix tape could be major,
depending on from whom; giving one
to someone in public was a dilemma.
You had to practice. Would you say,
nonchalantly, “Oh, here, I made you
a mix tape?” By the lockers? In class?
Ugh! But giving it over in private
could be worse, especially arranging it.
You never picked the best song off
the album, definitely not the hit single.
The deeper the cut the deeper buried
your feelings for that person. You didn’t
know? Not all lovesongs, though—
that would make you seem obsessed,
boring. They should know you’re fun
and also funny and dark-hearted
and, importantly, unpredictable.
A “Blasphemous Rumours” for every
“Only You.” And sexy! Though not
Prince’s moaners—not “Erotic City,”
not “Darling Nikki”! But what?
Not Top 40, stylish, with a sly angle,
‘70s funk, some Stevie Wonder, like you’ve
got background you don’t really have.
As it records, you have to listen to each
song in its entirety, and in this way
you hear your favorite song with the ears
of your intended, as they hear it, new.
This was the best feeling of your young
life. Then the cold chill of suddenly hearing
in your third-favorite INXS song a lyric
you’d break out in hives over if you thought
they thought you thought that about them
when they heard it (there’s something
about you, girl, that makes me sweat).
The only thing worse was the tape
running out a full minute before the end
of “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out.”
You never got it right, not even once.
That was part of the mix tape’s charm,
to your dismay. Did it ever win you
love? You never fell for anyone
else’s mix either. Sometimes cool,
mostly was just someone else’s
music in a case dense with tiny
handwriting to get all those titles in.
So much desire in those squeezed-in
letters. Not “Love me!” so much as
“Listen to me! Listen to me always!”
So that’s really it, right? Maybe
you thought someday you’d make
a mix tape that your splendid friend,
your lucky star, your seventh stranger,
would take a pen to, punching in
the little plastic tabs which meant,
as you well know, it could never be
taped over again. They’d never use
your mix tape to make another mix tape
to give away, or to copy a friend’s album
they didn’t like enough to buy, joining all
the okay tapes in caddies stacked up a wall
or thrown in the backseat of the Datsun,
then in moving boxes, stored in parents’
garages, five for a buck at a yard sale,
buried in landfill, or, saddest of all,
discarded on the street, purple script
still aswirl on the white label FOR YOU—
JUST BECUZ. Shiny brown ribbon
tangled, strangled, never again to play
out what had to be said just that way.