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Poetry by Shawn Casselle

To R Kaplan

WS’ was a creepy curse; Emily’s reads
“called back” (or)
(reimbursed) and he at 30 to
kill a three-day weekend plots his
own stone verse in
draft after draft of
epitaph while
drinking/ smirking (plus the stinking)
(VCR’s not)

the avenue’s a patent leather belt; the
rain-bearded air and welted
windows and the wetted shingle
smells; he tilts on
Shaker back-legs (oblique revenge against)
(his woman’s wealth), tingling
and sneezing in the screen door and shaking
in Memorial Day breezes like
a mortal sparkling of the
“self”, naked in its skin:

     he liked to play “what if?” and
     after that, “if, then”

(not bad but flashy and)
(oblique: an epitaph should)
(make immediate sense)

the apartment’s dark, outside is filled
with the crash and patter and soak
of weather, and million sparks of
high-beam lights that
wick and shatter; guide incessant
cars together, a
sluice-along procession at
the dignified velocity of
the blind or
the wise or
the tarrying ride
to a burial rite, about the star of which
the wry might bitch
he did and didn’t
make it
. Naked

as an upper-case A in the
doorway (the busted Shaker)
(foal-legs cracked) (sits in shock)
as he stands, bottle-grips the
hard-necked Muse and crafts his

     Here lies Joe, Still
(too glib, then)
     Not Quite Called but
     Fallen Back.

Peering, he can see their bed along a vacant line of sight
Through three small rooms to the front of the flat in bleary light.
Beside the bed, a nightstand on which a bottle of great beauty (he)
(drank the stuff inside but) (she was too snooty)
is sodomized by a candle she claimed to like. Above the bed
those middle-brow diplomas: Van Gogh’s painting of his final field; a
steel-framed print of Arbus dunces,
their quaintly stunted poses
(and by the way)
(middle-brow means)
(not knowing but knowing about the work of)
(Immanuel Kant or)
(reading one Umberto Eco once)
(or finding anything written or spoken)
(by some British bloke so very)
(serious or terribly)
(funny) (or better yet saying)
(“vagina” in place of that)
(lower-or-higher-brow chestnut)

he stepped out on the landing over akimbo Shaker, exiting the flat like
A simple objet d’art crafted from glue and a stack of shadows by some gifted
Nigger-maker (don’t forget he’s still)
(naked as blood in a)
(beaker) so
down the back stairs towards
garbage can and garden, the
shimmering steps in sizzling
darkness, he’s never felt
so typical in
life: a truly nigger thing to
do alright, to
lurk with no intention but

(he remembers reading)
(an issue of Psychology Today about some Wasps’)
(stigmatic bleeding)
(and on pg. 23 a treatise on the syndrome plaguing weedy)
(men, who, reaching 33)
(fretfully compare themselves to Christ)
(troubled by what little they’d each achieved by the time)
(said Son of Man had floor-planned the futures of)
(Belfast and Rome and)
(inspired modern Anti-Semitix and militarized the womb while)
(finding time to)
(gerrymander Palestine)
(in eponymous millennia to come)

(but, dig: they once asked Coltrane’s cousin)
(didjall think the brother would amount to sumpin?
(and she said no)
(nobody thought anybody was going to be anything)
(and that’s exactly right)

(any nigger’s epitaph)
(could only be)

I tried     

Copyright © Shawn Casselle 2003

Shawn Casselle was born in Los Angeles, California, and has lived in Chicago, Las Vegas, Philadelphia, Minneapolis, Saint Paul, Brooklyn, San Diego, London, Berlin, Hamburg, and Stockholm. He currently lives and works in Berlin.

This poetry may not be archived or distributed further without the author’s express permission. Please read the license.

This electronic version of Epitaphs is published by The Richmond Review by arrangement with the author. For rights information, contact The Richmond Review in the first instance


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