92 Pages, FootHills Publishing
Illustration by Carol Zaloom
|| Sunday Afternoons the River Smelled like Engines
I slipped through the pier fence hidden
behind the green copper terminal where
commuter trains sat vacant on Sundays.
Temping all week, I had no other time
to plan out my novel, Hoboken Rising.
For inspiration, I brought my cache of $1
paperbacks from Hoboken Vintage Comics,
where someone had unloaded college staples:
Sartre, Celine, Brecht, Gravity’s Rainbow,
classics I’d skipped, too busy majoring
in misery over girlfriends. Finally serious
about literature, I piled old dock ropes
into a chair & held pages firm against wind
that tossed gulls on wingtips dipped in black ink.
I read the first line but not for the first time:
“A screaming comes across the sky.”
What was it about Pynchon’s masterpiece?
All summer, I couldn’t get past his octopus
with Pavlovian training. My attention drifted
to washed up buoys trapped in pier piling eddies,
then the green Fuji blimp nosing overhead,
a sky whale bound for Newark. I stood up
& waved like an airport runway jockey,
pretending to redirect the beast to Bayonne.
My wife asked why didn’t I read fun books
instead. “Let’s go together,” I replied.
“I’ll read Keats to your nipples.”
But Sunday afternoons she volunteered
at the church shelter, baking lasagna for forty.
“Literature’s no substitute for helping others,”
she told me. But she hadn’t read what I’d write.
“Sunday afternoons the river smelled like engines,”
was my first line. The rest could be anything.