John Casteen

Generation X



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)





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)