Random musings…

Glad you stopped by… take a peek inside for a collection of short stories, social commentary, poetry, rants, and excerpts from current projects. Hope you enjoy your time here, check back often for new material and of course feel free to submit any questions or comments…

Author retains all rights to published / posted material – all posts are solely the work of the author

Joe

Homeless

Conversations with the air
Carts with wobbly wheels
Things no one wants to steal

Sun wind and rain its all the same
Bound by chains they didn’t make
Loneliness that they can’t shake
 
Can you see them out there
From our perch in here
We’re all hoping it will work out

Scribbles

Scribbling lines under a street light
Verses, curses, wishes and dreams
 
A long walk down a dead-end street
She’s hurrying with nowhere to go
 
Memories at the bottom of her pack
Strings and things - timeless treasures
 
A stranger’s coins in a tattered hat
The sun, rain and pain its all the same 
 
Scribbling lines under a street light
Verses, curses, wishes and dreams

The Iron Garden

A Joseph Castagno short story…

The motorbike vibrated beneath them as Tra picked his way around the larger cracks in the asphalt and the occasional decaying remains of a wayward tree limb, Erie clung to him she wasn’t frightened so much as reassured by her brother’s touch. They didn’t speak, the respirators making it impossible to be heard and although nothing was alive the silence felt oppressive. 

The sun glares down with a merciless stare, the heat rippling in waves across the dusty ground baking the remains of the asphalt ribbon stretching to the horizon. The gullies and cricks have long since given up leaving a patchwork of cracked and parched mud. This area once Western Illinois and neighboring Iowa – now part of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Middle States – mostly just referred to as the Middle States – had been at drought status for more than a century. The hulking figures of long dead giant oaks line the road standing as silent sentinels to the surrounding wasteland, their roots searching deep and far straining to extract the long extinct vestiges of life’s elixir. A pointless exercise only death roams amongst them biding its time. 

It wasn’t so much that this area was forbidden, there just wasn’t any reason to come here, most of the remaining population was trying to survive on the receding shores of the great lakes – a daily struggle for food and water consumed most everyone. The series of increasingly deadly viruses and the predicted but still unanticipated rapid acceleration of global warming in the first half of the 21st century had finally allowed the radical progressive youth movement to wrest control of local and state governments. The dismantling of the Federal system had followed shortly after. That triumph – the banners, speeches, celebrations and euphoria of presumed equality was short lived and now a distant memory. That isn’t to say the old guard could have done better, but it hadn’t taken long for Golding’s “Lord of the Flies” syndrome to kick in; but even that lawlessness hadn’t lasted – squalor, disease, and hunger are the true lords of equality. 

Tra pulls the bike into the shadow of a large oak trunk, the top had been sheared off some fifty feet up, standing he pulls a small bottle from the saddle bag handing it to Erie before taking a small sip for himself. Gently replacing it he spreads the weathered parchment on the ground, “we’re close…” he murmurs mostly to himself. 

“How do you know,” she asks with wonder. 

He smiles gently, “just a feeling, just a feeling,” he says standing and looking out at the desolate landscape, “it has to be here… great grandfather said it was.” Turning back to her, “come let’s go it should be a short walk that way,” he says pointing. 

Erie hesitates for a moment before taking his hand, “lead on brother!” she exclaims with more bravado then she feels. 

Time was no longer measured in seconds, minutes, and hours, but by the cycles of the sun and moon, and how many meals in between – but if a timepiece had existed it would have ticked off about twenty minutes. The fine dust eddies like ripples on a pond slowly refilling their footprints; Tra stops and looks back toward the bike and the silent oak hulks now small in the distance, he kicks at the dust, “it should be here…” he says forlornly. 

Erie pulls on his hand, “can we go Tra, I don’t like it out here…” 

Searching the horizon, he kicks the ground again, “Damn!” he exclaims hopping around on one foot. 

He drops to his knees and starts frantically brushing the fine dust aside, “what is it Tra what did you find?” She asks starting to help him. The plaque is bigger than Erie, the raised letters still clearly visible, “what does it say,” she asks – reading wasn’t a survival skill and she had never learned the letters. 

Tra runs his fingers over the letters murmuring to himself, testing the sounds out in is head before softly reading the inscription, “It says Christopher Columbus – Discoverer of America 1,4,9,2…”

Erie peers over his shoulder, “is that it?” 

He reverently touches the letters again and, in a whisper, “a great new miracle occurred upon the earth… a new continent was discovered…” he pauses for a moment looking around carefully, “a new civilization was born…  a new nation was to rise.”

“But what does that mean Tra?”

“Let me read the end,” he says not answering her question, “it was called America… It was to become the birthplace of democracy… it was God’s country…” Tra stands up brushing the fine silt off his knees. “You can never tell anyone about this, understand?” he says grabbing her shoulders. 

“You’re scaring me Tra, why can’t we tell anyone? We found it just like great grandfather said we would.”

“This is from the old times E, back when great grandfather was a boy, these are the ‘Forbidden’.”

She clings to his side; every child knew the story of the ‘Forbidden’ the evil ones that caused the revolution and were responsible for the struggle life was now. “Do you think they are all here Tra?”

He looks around in wonder, “I bet they are… let’s see if we can find another!” 

The sun is low in the sky and glints off the edges of two dozen unearthed plaques and statues – Tra and E are covered in a sheen of fine dust, “I like his hat…” E says looking around, “what was his name?” 

“Robert E. Lee,” Tra smiles, “and the funny looking one over there is “Benjamin Franklin, and this one with the feathers is Geronimo…” Standing up he scans the horizon, “We need to get back E, don’t want to be out after dark.” 

“Tra I don’t think they were evil, do you?”

He hesitates before answering, “no probably not, great grandfather always said they were just people like everyone else…”

“Can we come back?” 

“Sure… but don’t tell anyone… our secret okay?”

Fire in the Sky

Smoke in the eyes
Blood in the streets
Fire in the sky

I can’t breathe
Four didn’t care
Now all grieve

Smoke in the eyes
Blood in the streets
Fire in the sky

Now you’re woke
With Fist in the air
Slogans you spoke

Smoke in the eyes
Blood in the streets
Fire in the sky

History now sacrilege
Topple the idols
Hide your privilege

Smoke in the eyes
Blood in the streets
Fire in the sky

Where from here
Is justice served
Nothing’s clear

Smoke in the eyes
Blood in the streets
Fire in the sky

OUTRAGE…

Outrage is universal! – it should be… it probably isn’t…

Tuesday was “blackout” and the black squares and circles on social media were, well encouraging… Protests – too small a word for what is happening – enter their second week and have trickled down to smaller towns and communities even as our larger urban centers struggle to maintain momentum. You can already feel apathy nibbling at the edges of our collective outrage.

It’s been ten days since George Floyd lost his life at the knee of a Minneapolis police officer; all while fellow officers and others stood by and watched. Charges have been filed, upgraded, expanded – autopsies completed and argued over – justice will no doubt be served at some point in the future – maybe. If justice is even possible in a scenario like this… how do you adjudicate with any real satisfaction the underlying cancer that transcends the act itself?

Arguments will erupt about Floyd’s character, whether the charges were applied quickly enough or if they were harsh enough, the conversation is bound to devolve as it usually does when we attempt to rationalize events like this. The danger of course is that we have a conversation about the symptoms and not the underlying causes and once again refuse to debate what level of latent prejudice we are comfortable with.

So, how long before things return to normal, before the routine is resumed and we, unaware, once again await an egregious act to spur our collective conscience… how long? My guess is we are already on the path back to status quo – oh the rallies will continue for a bit – youthful exuberance – legislation may be introduced, certainly we will see this dialogue front and center in coming elections… No one really believes we will wholesale “defund” the police and certainly sometime over the next number of months we will hear about convictions in Minneapolis, Floyd’s mural will start to weather and the stacked flowers will have faded; because real substantive evolution (not revolution) is difficult – it takes time, commitment, and resolve; real change has to by its very nature reflect the will of the nation.

Prejudice, and in its worst iteration, racism can’t be eliminated through legislation, protests, outrage… there is no inoculation for this disease. I have heard racism described as a “burning in the bones, something that is inescapable and never goes away…” it doesn’t really matter if you believe or understand it; each individual’s perception of things is their reality – we are not entitled or empowered to cast doubt on their personal experience.

So, what does it all mean? I can only speak for myself, but I believe that until we deal with the latent prejudice in all of us – individually in our own personal work on ourselves – can we begin to achieve any real lasting and substantive change. We all know the clichés – they exist because we have adopted them into the fabric of our culture: how certain people drive, are criminals, good at math, privileged, cheap, and all the other petty judgements we use to justify how we treat each other. These provide the thin layer of justification for deeper seated racism and hate – we need to strip the icing off and examine what lies below with an unvarnished honesty – hard of course – necessary unquestionably…

It’s time to start our individual journey of self-realization to determine what type of person we are and want to be… so that collectively we can create a society and culture where repetitive acts of hate are no longer the norm.

The End…

The cryo-pods gave off a barely perceptible hum their soft blue light not bright enough to cast any shadows – “what will it be like,” Maggie whispers a serene smile tugs at the corners of her mouth as the sedative worms its way through her system.


“Paradise honey, it will be paradise…” he replies hoping she doesn’t sense the underlying melancholy he is unable mask as he bends to give her a last kiss, “love you honey bunny…”


He had charmed her with stories of a distant future, a future in which the earth had been healed and swept clean of the pestilence mankind had become. She had believed it of course, she believed everything he told her and he hadn’t been able to come up with a good reason to tell her the truth. There wasn’t going to be any magical renewal, no waking up to huge forests and clear springs untouched by man for hundreds of years – the stories of a fantasy future were just that.


He sits on the edge of his pod, trying to squash a survival instinct he didn’t know existed till this moment, it’s little late he thinks grimly finally settling in shifting to get comfortable, as if that mattered at all, wishing he had taken the sedative. He had decided against it though, wanting to be clearheaded when it was time to activate the master switch that would slide the clear glass covers over them and initiate the cryogenic process, he still hadn’t managed to push the green button though as he studies the ceiling.

Three years earlier the Icarus Initiative had sent thousands of unmanned probes to the sun ostensibly to study the unexplained increase in solar energy and flares that were bombarding the earth accelerating the depletion of the ozone layer and beginning to overwhelm the earth’s protective magnetic fields. It had been a lie of course, another impotent demonstration of man’s inability to solve a problem that had been staring humanity in the face for a hundred years. By the time science had overwhelmed nationalistic greed it was too late and it turned out science didn’t have any answers anyway.


Cryo-pods had been around for almost twenty years, medicine’s answer to “we don’t know how to cure that yet…” They had watched the late-night infomercials together, Maggie asking if he thought maybe they should get one, he had nodded stoically not having the words to explain the pointlessness of cryogenics in the face of melting polar ice caps and the continuous EMP waves that were already starting to take the earth’s power grid offline. At least it would be peaceful he had tried to convince himself, but it had been her childish smile and the warm squeeze of her hand that toppled his indecision. He simply couldn’t bear to watch her suffer as she tried to process the indescribable horror hurtling toward them, so he had smiled and purchased two top-of-the-line pods.


The glass silently glides closed sealing the pod before he realizes he has pressed the green button; there’s a moment of panic and he can feel the acid in his stomach rising. The liquid nitrogen erases any further flicker of consciousness as he and Maggie peacefully await the end…

The 2019 Castagno Rant

I thought I would have a go at this “RANT” thing again, this the 25th or 26th one – hard to say, the early archives are incomplete,and does it really matter anyway? You would think after that many years I would run out of things to rant about, and in some respects you would be right. 

 

The early rants were filled with tales of children and the joys of parenting – followed by those perilous teenage years – I go back and read those just to remind myself how lucky I am to be here.  Times have mellowed though: grandkids, Starbucks, politics, texting, and general stupidity seemed to have taken center stage – some even accuse me of getting soft and losing my acerbic sarcasm – I invite them to come over and help me plant roses – no takers yet, strangely enough.

 

But now what? Another regurgitation of the year’s events, grandbaby drool stories, the horror of modern-day travel, drive-thru frustrations, why morons continue to text and drivewould that bring a smile to your face and have you nodding in sympathetic understanding? Ahh the comfort of tried and true rant material… 

 

Or would you rather hear how a text notified me at 35K feet that my older sister had suddenly passed – you know “passed” cause it’s so much nicer than died – maybe some details on her decades fighting opioid addiction until her body simply succumbed in a bathroom alone. Would it help to understand how it felt standing in her empty kitchen spooning her ashes from one big box to a number of smaller ones; the memories cascading like so many fine particles? No, I’m guessing not…  

 

So, by now a few of you are like… “holy shit he’s completely unhinged this year…” Well no actually but sooner or later we come to the realization that the accumulation of life experience forces a certain clarity. The sharp pinprick of this present reality if you will… The young have the pleasure of rushing headlong into that blurry and distant place those of us that have some years already inhabit, but once you’re here – if you haven’t started, it’s time to pay attention. 

 

It struck me on a night drive – Tammy and I take a drive every evening, grab a coffee, cruise around the lake, and catch-up on the day; something we’ve been doing for years – anyway, I realized I had started measuring things by how much time I might have left. Freaked me out a little I have to say – I have always kept a “list” of things I wanted to accomplish in life and ticked a few off here and there… we all have one and sure it matures with time and experience, but I had never really considered there might be an expiration date on some of it; sobering to say the least. I am pretty sure we all have these moments: the loss of a loved one or a friend, catastrophic events like 9/11 or a school shooting – all are milestone reminders… it’s the paying attention that’s important however. 

 

I am okay with the running out of time part  I am not okay with running out of experiences. It’s not as simple or cliché as living without regrets or the common refrain of “leave it all out there…” I want to make sure I love deeply enough; touch not only the hearts of my children, but their minds and spirits as well. Help strangers where I can, stand for what is right without regard for personal cost, and embody what it means to be a true friend. I want to breathe in clear cold mountain air, and feel the warm sun on my head as waves break against the shore… and I want to share all of this with as many as I can.  I used to believe life was about fulfilling some list of material accomplishments: job, money, stuff… but the longer I live the more I understand life is about the living. 

 

So, what does all that mean, you might be asking… and uhh not really a rant dude… I hear you, and don’t worry I still get irritated by the ass in the Prius that doesn’t know how to order at Starbucks – by the way have you tried the Peppermint Brownie cake pop? Oh my God! Or the fool that thinks it’s okay to pick out each individual donut in their two-dozen order at the Dunkin’ drive-thru. What about service animals that are not really service animals on planes, do I really need to go into this? Millennials with beards… not a good look young lady… How about not vaccinating all the little bio-terrorists running around, or making medicine you can’t live without unaffordable for most folks. You get the point, there is still plenty to rant about, plenty to make you shake your head and say $%@#$%@# (you know what that means right?). 

 

Admittedly, I still do most of those, but I have had some experiences this year, some realizations, and come to some conclusions that lead me to believe maybe all that really isn’t as important as I thought; and I may even be questioning the overall level of my response to these situations cause is that really how I want to use my time, my experiences… probably not. 

 

Unbelievable, simply unbelievable… dude just ordered a soy decaf peppermint mocha latte with two shots of espresso, extra whip and chocolate drizzle… I don’t care if he is driving an F250 that’s a bullshit order – get the F’ out of my drivethru moron!

 

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays… and oh by the way – the middle part is the important part… 

 

Joe

 

That One Day…

The babies were finally sleeping having drifted off somewhere near the border, they had all cried together – but the little ones had succumbed to the steady thrum of highway driving and Kate’s tears had finally dried. She could still feel the clench of her heart, the heat behind her eyes and the salty residue on her lips – she tried to stifle the occasional snuffle so as not to wake Jack Jr and his sister Sally. 

She turns the Christian station, she wasn’t feeling very Christian though; she had been trying to be a good wife, following the rules and doing all the things a church wife was expected to do, but at some point, you had to wonder who had really made all these rules? They didn’t seem to serve Jesus’ purposes, but husbands like her Jack sure seemed to be enjoying things. She bites her lip holding her tears at bay – and no doubt a big “I told you so…” was coming from her father; but she didn’t have anywhere else to turn.

The memories cascade and there’s no holding back the tears, everything had seemed so perfect a loving Christian man, the wedding of her dreams, the perfect little home… when she had found out she was pregnant she had cried for three days. She didn’t have the heart to tell him she wasn’t ready; Jack had been so excited about being a dad. Then two years later the little boy he had really wanted. All of a sudden, she was trying to be a good wife, raise two babies on her own and hold down a full-time job; it wasn’t fair and it was too much. She had prayed, cried, called her mother twice a day and even tried talking to Jack; but here she was driving a hastily packed car down the interstate forcing herself to stay strong and not turn around. 

Of course, it hadn’t been just one thing, it never was, she had spent hours Sunday cleaning the house and preparing meals for Jack to take for lunch that week, by evening she had been exhausted hoping for a little attention or at least a hand giving the kids a bath and getting them in the bed. Why that night should be any different than most every other weekend she couldn’t really say, wishful thinking maybe. 

It had been the FaceBook post that had been the last straw, “out to lunch with my homies” had been the caption – why had she bothered? Opening the fridge, she pulls out a yogurt for the kids and sees the carefully prepared lunch – her post it note with “Love you honey” still attached. It had taken forty minutes to pack a suitcase and the kids into the SUV – she had left his lunch on the counter, maybe he would figure it out. 

It was four hours and a little more than two hundred miles before her phone finally rings. She doesn’t want to answer it, doesn’t want to talk to him – what’s left to say after all? On the seventh ring she can’t take it any longer and pushes the button. “Hey honey go ahead and eat dinner I’m working late okay?” She doesn’t know what to say, no how was your day, or how are the kids, or even a simple love you baby. None of that comes out though all she says is OK as she hangs up and the tears start again…

Authors note: 

This isn’t a condemnation of Christianity or Christian men, but it is a commentary on marginalizing people – especially the people that love you and make a real effort every day on your behalf – whether you acknowledge it or not. It is a statement on abuse – you don’t have to hit someone to harm them… and maybe the most important question: when is enough, enough? The preservation of one’s self-worth requires taking action on your own behalf – even if it means packing the babies up and heading down the interstate – physically or metaphorically… 

So, don’t be an asshole and hurt the ones that love you the most… 

Mortality

My mortality weighs heavy
every breath
every moment 
 
My mortality weighs heavy
Every note
Every word
 
Every joy sweeter
Every pain deeper
Oh my mortality weighs heavy
 
Every kiss lingers
Every tear stings
Oh my mortality weighs heavy

The Filament…

The days are fraught with equal measures of peril and opportunity for there is a filament that lies within the human experience that ties all things and all beings together. It allows the soul to absorb all that is beautiful, horrific, agonizing and uplifting. It transcends time, space, geography, prejudice, and understanding. It creates coincidence and allows for missed opportunity. It is a sharp intake of breath, an ache deep in one’s chest, an uncontrolled smile, and an unrestrained single tear. It is all that we are, all that we wish to be, and all we wish we weren’t… Excerpt from “Jake”