Vincent Casaregola, 11/14/2016

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.

 

 

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