The last white house at the end of the row of white houses. Michael E. Casteels. Invisible Publishing. Halifax & Picton, Nova Scotia. 2016.
Today's book of poetry went back to the stacks today to see what we could find on Michael E. Casteels. Turns out we had more than we remembered, less than we want. Casteels has published more than a dozen chapbooks and we were only able to turn up three of them. The Robot Dreams (Puddles of Sky Press, 2013), solar-powered light bulb and the lake's achy tooth (Apt 9 Press, 2015)
and check engine. rhinoceros. tungsten (Puddles of Sky Press, 2015).
Today's book of poetry has written about both The Robot Dreams and check engine. rhinoceros. tungsten. and you can check those out here:
It was easy to like those chapbooks but now, with considerable glee, we present the last white house at the end of the row of white houses and Today's book of poetry couldn't be happier to see Casteels with a trade collection. And this one is a corker.
Casteels seems to have a mastery of a certain kind of romantic ennui, these poems are loving but gently sad.
Universe Composed Of Mostly Nothing,
New Study Indicates
Suddenly we're weightless,
columns of light
slice through us
and a gentle breeze
blows us further apart.
For a while we drift,
waving farewell to our hands,
with lips already distant
to ear that were barely even here.
We were pretty happy here in the Today's book of poetry offices when Casteels book arrived, it's great to see him get the opportunity to let the ya-ya's out, to canter, skip, sprint and cavort. The last white house at the end of the row of white houses gives Casteels a platform to spread his considerable wings. And we loved the title of this book, a big old juicy long-assed title.
Casteels mixes clinical detail of the day to day with an imagined reality that lives just beneath our skin and just beyond our grasp. The result is a strangely familiar poetic that can be both consternating and comforting depending on whether Casteels is slamming on the brakes or hammering down on the gas.
Somebody dropped a map on the sidewalk downtown
and no one stopped to pick it up. Now it's dark, the
streets are empty, and the map is alone. It shivers as the
fingers of a heavy breeze grab the edge of a page and
start pulling. The map spreads out in all directions. It
crawls over fire hydrants and parked cars, mailboxes,
phone booths. It climbs up lampposts and stop signs. It
smothers building and bridges. The map unfolds until
it blankets the entire city at a ration of one-to-one.
The next morning, no one is late for work. Their keys
are right where they left them. No one misplaces a wallet
or searches for a missing sock. The lost dog arrives at
the front door and barks to be let in. No one stops to
ask for directions. No one honks a horn or slams on
their brakes. Everything inhabits its own space and
everything feels right at home. But the map, now one
with its city, longs for a pocket to nestle in. It wants to be
folded and pressed against another map, a map of some
foreign city whose streets are beautifully unknown.
Today's book of poetry was impressed with the straight out punching power in The last white house at the end of the row of white houses. Casteels is a Sugar Ray Leonard poet. These poems come at you from every direction but the power behind the punch is always right on target.
Milo, our head tech, took over our morning read today, he's been a Casteels fan ever since The Robot Dreams got stuck in his noggin. Milo said that he found Casteels poems "twist like real life, tease like dreams." We liked that.
The Red Light
I'm already late and speeding,
praying the light doesn't change.
It does and I stop.
I tap my fingers against the wheel,
twist dials on the dash. In the rear-view mirror
I examine the spaces between my teeth.
The light hasn't changed.
I rummage through the glovebox,
remembering the spearmint gum.
I count spare change in the ashtray.
Minutes pass. I consult the
owner's manual. I read it
cover to cover and still
the light remains. At sundown
I begin to worry. I take only
short sips from my water bottle.
I flick the high beams off and on,
signalling in Morse code. It's getting late.
Radio hosts abandon the airwaves.
I watch the moon drift overhead.
Night after night
the moon wanes
until crescent, and then
into nothing. I've been
counting the days on my
fingers and toes. Seasons
shift and skew. I engage the
wipers when it rains, crank the
defrost when it snows.
On humid summer evenings
I roll down the window
and let me arm dangle.
A faint breeze stirs my thought
and I wonder about Goldie.
Is she swimming in circles
or just floating in the archway
of that tiny plastic castle? I hope the water
is fresh, that her bowl is clean, I hope she wants
for nothing. And sitting here, bathed in the glow
of this godforsaken light, I wonder
if she'd even remember me.
Obviously we here at Today's book of poetry are big admirers of Michael E. Casteels, his third appearance on our page puts him in the rarefied atmosphere of our repeat customers, our favourites. The last white house at the end of the row of white houses will present Casteels to a much wider audience and we here at Today's book of poetry know they are in for a treat.
Michael E. Casteels
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Michael e. Casteels is the author of over a dozen chapbooks of poetry. In 2012, he was nominated for The Premier’s Awards for Excellence in the Arts, an emerging artist award. He lives in Kingston, where he runs Puddles of Sky Press.
“Have you seen Michael e. Casteel’s first full-length book of poems? It’s here, in front of your face. It begins with a wolf at the door and ends by waving farewell to our hands. Inside you’ll find everything you need: robots, a possum’s sneeze, and coffins filled with jelly donuts. The Last White House at the End of the Row of White Houses is one of the most exciting debuts to appear in Canadian poetry. Brilliant, strange, beautiful and encouraging, Casteel’s poetry is a repair kit for the human spirit.”
— Jason Heroux, Hard Work Cheering Up Sad Machines
— Gary Barwin, Moon Baboon Canoe
Michael E. Casteels
video: Small Books, Big Country
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