An Imitation of Robert Lowell's "For the Union Dead"

By Henry Kastler

The heave-ho downtown monoliths spike speed
into the information arm of America. The beacons are blinking.
Bulletproof opaque windows shine like dirty jade in the moonlight.
The frames are steel cold.

I believed I could feel the floor move under rubberized soles
my body drifting
to ignite a spark
on the lighters of the smashed, smoking daydreamers.

I return to the ground. I see the skyline
and wonder about the atmosphere and the urban heat island effect
of asphalt, concrete, and steel. When I was temping,
I saw the skeleton of a skyscraper being

built on the edge of the Loop. Orange-hardhatted
beings unafraid of height and cold, walking on
the icy blue dull shine of new steel I-beams, riding
in red-framed open-air elevators, the cables strong and taut.

Laminate and foam-core cubicles proliferate like the spores
of a mushroom colony.
The hand-sized suns of striped barriers
blink on every pause,

the autopilot drivers led by an invisible singer
and the sounds of electrified trees
falling on these city streets,
laid out like lead on a blue graph.

The ground was paved when the money
came pouring in.
Pedestrians would walk
with the steel genesis of the junkyard dog.

The crowd makes a sound like a baseball
going through a window.
The open air is cold,
like an empty icebox.

It pulls on your exposed skin
from the inside-out, like a magnet
drawing the suspended iron
out of the lava that is the blood.

A car on the sidewalk dreams
of points for every obstacle destroyed.
Obstacles hope they aren't. Cars don't
go in other directions, they head for the driveway.

Next to the cinderblock gray of new construction condos,
the aging bungalows and wood-frame houses
bask in the shadows of modern commerce; arson
paints the city with the colors of gasoline and smoke.

Houses stand still in the union
of instinct and Earth, faces
change to view the dynamic
of giving and taking away.

The musician hears no empty spaces
even on the road
where the seekers become immortal, or so the legend goes.
They are found to be human after all.

The road has an end.
But there are no stoplights in the country.
On the El, people clasp stainless rails
and lurch forward and back,

going somewhere, to put the nose on the grindstone
and fill their houses. The sky has an end.
I sprawl on the couch and see
the fan blades mesh with the whole machine.

The open air
streams through a broken window,
it goes everywhere,
guided by heat and love.

The infrastructure is here. Now
the sky will be the sky,
the land has reached the last limit,
a level held with unsteady hand.

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Copyrightę2002 by Henry Kastler.

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