John Casteen

Generation X

I.
In this life you get to keep
what you can defend.
When the wind turns right from here I hear
the small jets encompass the tarmac; on standby
people sigh the all-done sigh of turbines spooling up.
Salarymen settle in, studying their Palms.
So: the pewter-complected sky a palimpsest, yes,
the already we inherit, the not yet we imagine,
last born in the old city, first with the keys
to the new, little last men at the end of history,
little I-so-knew-you-were-going-to-say-that. God help us.
I’m coming back into the real again, can see it like I’d see
a ground-fog looming in the road ahead at night and know
when it hits the brights will strike me blind. Like in the strobe
that peals against the face in photographs,
flash and after-flash.
That’s done. And the lathered sky—why deny
that it is what it is?—our common palimpsest,
clouds like chisels in the lean hand of wind:
they have no author, or many. Which is as far as I go.
&&&
The liminal: we don’t even need the phone.
Let’s hang up and talk.
The internet is broken today; I cannot populate my fields,
cannot toggle between environments. Google me
and get an identity crisis. The error message: system
failure, denial of service.
That thing hell hath no fury like
was on the phone again, ranting at what’s silent after my voice
and a psychometric E; you did what you did, I hardly say
to the kitchen, now let it sit. And wear my cuticles hard worn back
like ten badges—
You’d better hide your knuckles, you’d better listen
like whatever’s the opposite of fin-de-siecle; just people,
petit monsieur peut-etre, petit monsieur what-the-fuck,
laissez les bon-temps perdu roulez.
That’s how we roll:
driving home, in the rear glass of the minivan before me,
trees ribbon by like boat-wake, sea-boil, fast and tilted,
bent and streaming, inflected, syncopated.
I have no idea where I am.
—(May 2007)
II.
After the car crash:
the oracle’s waltz along the double-yellow
in black smoking curlicues, splay foot dragging,
odd orthography on the pavement scrawled in blacklight-green
rivulets of coolant, like oily fingerlets of bourbon
on the tumbler-side crescent after a sip, after a slip.
The obvious always a self-portrait.
It’s laden out,
and toxic, and sublime. Top that.
Sunday morning,
Earlysville, and the gutteral preposterous plastic
trash-fire burnbarrel smell, the smoke drifting, lessening.
I can’t see its real shape for watching it go.
It still goes.
I want to talk a bit in the spirit of the oddest property,
inertia, which keeps still things still and moving things
moving. It’s looming like those hills that rise and say.
About here I would take some sentimental turn,
you know, if this thing I’m in were fully mine.
&&&
I am studying a topographical map, leaning in
as if the way its lines are inked, intimate, reveals
more in proximity than in distance. Close together
means steep, means bring your mountain legs, boys.
The map is the future, in context. Like the future
its main elements are scrutable, its finer points
out of scale, local. And like the future it exists
purely in two dimensions. Lies flat like one asleep.
Like latency. I’ll meet you two hours before sunrise, I say.
Not the end of it, I mean. I mean before the beginning.
—(February 2006)
III. [Kidd’s Mill, Hardware River Wildlife Management Area]
Each day dropped into the lineup,
each pinch-hitting
possibility. The world unrolls en plein air right outside
the phthalate-encrusted windshield,
my childrens’ playthings on the floorboard,
little risk-toys, les amuses-bouche carcinogeniques…
Each day dropped into the lineup,
each scattered, unyielding, relevant day…
Hard by the Hardware River’s banks there’s frost
on the low-ground this morning
as daybreak pounds the trees’ hard-bleeding faces.
The landscape is, as ever, adamant, and passive.
It opens like a drama: the curtain rises, nobody moves. The doings
on the television news seem unlikely, anchors
shouting past their veils of rain. Above, heavy storms
like collisions skid overhead; the wind asserts, revises itself. I need
to start seeing again, here, swales of timothy-heads
oscillating, steers slanting one from another up the creek-bed.
The way their steaming shapes interdepend; the way each memory
obliterates the past. Spring comes on like a sharp green dream,
April igniting the cherry-trees, strange and dangerous,
the bird-stippled low-ground gorgeous and seething with veeries, tow-hees,
junco-birds. My people, my people, we have mined
our future: coffee achievers, binary drivers, fashion victims…
—(April 2007)
IV. [Long Island, Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge]
Inside the transformative moment, connected to the animal,
from time to time I find the mind regressing back, the way
when as a child one’s limbs felt smaller than the body in the world
of the real: borne along, riding one’s life as though one’s life
were a wave and the ride would tide one over past the end…
I am in blood to my elbows. My hands will be rough, I know,
tonight, salt-leached. It denatures me. A little gets in my eye
that stings and sees. The new idea is more narrative; its story lies
in the territory of abstraction. It is the old idea whose name
I did not know. It’s irreversible, incontrovertible. Can be done
and not undone. While looking out, sea-grasses ticking and sawing,
I see no one to talk to, and hear everything I need to say to them.
But you already know. These tessellated words, these words
that move, a crop of grief, mouth to ear, darkly out, and darkly past
one to another like a rumor of snow. Just now I’m working hard
on something else, forgetting this poem,
this poem made out of my life.
—(November 2006)


John Casteen