Current Occupation: College Teacher
Former Occupation(s): Organizational and Technical Writer, High School Teacher, Government Worker, Sales Clerk, Factory Worker, Food Service Worker
Contact Information: Vincent Casaregola teaches literature, film, and writing courses at Saint Louis University. He has published poetry and nonfiction in a number of different journals, including The Examined Life, Natural Bridge, WLA, and 2River. He also writes about film and cultural issues and is currently working on a book that examines how film has represented business and labor.
The Carbon Content
(For my father and his generation)
It was a steel town then–
steel, cars, and chemicals–
where men who'd survived
depression, then war,
forged pigs and ingots
and fashioned them into cars.
The morning air smelled
of sulphurous hell and prosperity.
Some ad-man had called it
"the best location in the nation,"
but the steel men paid him no mind.
They had work, neighborhoods,
children, wives, and
tools in the basement.
They drank Black Label at the VFW,
smoked and argued at the union halls,
and panelled a rathskeller as a hideaway.
On odd nights,
they might wake at 3:00 a.m.,
to the creak of the house settling,
to the groan of the furnace in winter.
Then sleep would not return,
and they'd recall the ones lost
across continents, across oceans–
names, faces fading from memory
as from old newspapers.
Even now, death was no stranger–
on the job a missed step, lost balance,
could send a man into the inferno.
They joked grimly of the carbon content
added to the molten mix–
the union paid for the funerals.
Afterwards, in private, each man
looked at his own hands,
the carbon under every finger nail,
knew himself to be chemicals, elemental.
How My Office Is Used
[In response to the Central Administration’s request for a usage analysis of all space on campus.]
My office contains approximately
1,440 cubic feet of air, of which
18 percent, or thereabouts,
is oxygen that, when I am in,
I breathe, leaving behind,
unfortunately for the global
temperature, some CO2.
Within that air I move,
sometimes by walking,
sometimes by rolling my chair,
sometimes by climbing, usually
climbing to seek a book
on a high shelf and at my height
most shelves are high.
I also stand still in the office
or sit still, except that
I am still moving in some
subtle way, like typing, or
writing, or reading and that
requiring at least that I move
my eyes back and forth,
and of course all these require
that I go on breathing.
I speak in the office, often
on the telephone and usually
that is my own cell phone,
and sometimes I speak with
people who visit–my students,
other people's students, my
colleagues, all of whom come in
from time to time to seek
something–perhaps they think
I am wise and they need wisdom,
or that I am knowing and they need
knowledge, or perhaps they may just
need to be talking so that they
equalize the pressure in their souls
that otherwise might expand
too rapidly and do some damage.
In the office I write, often
at my keyboard and sometimes
on office tablets and sometimes
on small index cards–the cards,
which I purchase myself, I carry
in my shirt pocket, and I never
wear a shirt without a pocket.
In my office I read books
and articles, and poems,
and letters, and emails, and
discourses strange and magical
that give me hope that winged
creatures like to view me
as I read, winged creatures
small and silent who hide on
the highest shelves that I
find so difficult to reach.
I sometimes eat in my office,
but my meals are simple,
sandwiches brought from home,
an apple or an orange, sometimes
a granola bar–I keep a box
for emergencies in one drawer–
sometimes, when my stomach cramps,
or when I feel the need to be
young again, sometimes even
a small bag of animal crackers,
known as an antidote for stomach ills,
as well as for the darkness of the soul.
Sometimes I just sit in my office,
and I try to be at peace with the space–
I listen for the stories that the space
has to tell me, listen for the minute
tragedies and triumphs it has witnessed,
for what even the hard-hearted concrete,
above and below me, was once moved
to hear, concrete now scarred
by sad stories, concrete with a memory
of loss and a wish to write elegies.
Sometimes, on Saturdays,
I bring my youngest daughter to the office,
and I must confess that she breathes
just as I do, but not quite as much,
being small–I must confess that
she probably giggles too much
as she hides beneath my desk
and speaks with several of her
most select and intimate plush toys,
especially a penguin and a pig,
both of whom are said to breathe
but use no oxygen in doing so.
This Saturday use is possibly
inefficient, perhaps beyond the standard
use analysis prescribed for such space,
but I am convinced that on a cost-benefit basis
it is worth the small expense of air,
since the laughter inspired
by innocence and imagination
can actually revitalize concrete,
so saddened with its years of daily use,
so convinced by Friday night
that it is not worth going on
supporting the multifaceted folly
that floor by floor increases the gravity,
increases the load that must be borne.
You see, the introduction into
enclosed space of a single
bouyant soul can actually increase
the life-span of the structure,
making the concrete
want to go on living.
A New York Minute
As his foot descended from the curb to the asphalt, he sensed his mistake. But momentum carried him forward, even as, glancing to his left, he saw the cab approaching. Involuntarily, his left hand, holding the cell, pushed toward the vehicle in a futile gesture of protection. That is why the phone soon arced into the air, to land at a child’s feet, five yards distant. By then, he had moved forward, and the cab had struck his left hip, whipping him across the hood, smashing his shoulder on the windshield that instantly became a webwork of tiny cracks. His feet twirled upward, the right shoe sailing into an even higher arc—its tassel would brush the cheek of a woman down the block. By then he had been turned round to land behind the cab, head first—suddenly dead and with only one shoe.