Novel Flash: Coming Down Again

LACEY’S 747 BANKED DOWN to Heathrow on a late afternoon so dark and drizzly that the dim yellow road lamps on the dual carriageway leading out from London appeared in his window as dull globes of phosphorescence, lone jelly fish in a sea of fog, rain, and city spew. As the plane circled lower, its path took Lacey over the gray looping Thames, once a pestiferous open sewer but cleaned up enough now to give old men in hooded slickers an excuse to set lines for perch. The plane passed the airport and circled over the Post Office Tower and the bed-and-breakfast hotels near the British Museum, where old ladies with Irish brogues were bustling past kitchen windows sliding with rain as they prepared trays to be laid the next morning before mute, uncomprehending Greeks and Syrians, before American and German backpackers and nervous Japanese fitted in tweeds. The plane flew over Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, over the Round Pond where bundled-up kids, watched by au pairs in macs and scarves, launched little boats on the shallow pond stippled with raindrops, and where the bird people, oblivious to the weather as they gathered by Peter Pan’s statue, held out handfuls of seed for the shrill sparrows and the waddling pigeons that would eventually perch on their arms and heads offered up in bird-brained joy. Flew over the soaked Trotskyite giving a soapbox speech to a crippled pensioner at Hyde Park Corner. Flew over the glistening, dripping yews where proper men with bowlers and brollies went down on their knees for love. Flew over the hippie, tattered collar turned up, scratching the sidewalk with pastels—runny now with rivulets of rain—of the foods he’d like to eat Flew over the M and L Club, a BBC haunt, where Lacey’s friend, Jack Belfast, was waiting for Di to get off work as he tipped his pint of Watney’s, dropped ten pence in the slot machine, and pulled the lever. Flew over Shepherd’s Bush where Roberts and Prescott and Fay Cockburn were still sleeping. Flew over East Sheen. Flew over Dr. John Blake, another of Lacey’s Vietnam friends, as he bicycled to the hospital past the Kentucky Fried Chicken just down from Sheen Lane, past the Hare and Hounds where Young’s “real beer” was brought in each day on wagons drawn by brewery horses. … And flew—as it left Dr. Blake, with his wool cap pulled tight and his pipe bowl turned down, peddling through curb water on slippery brakes past the East Sheen bakery (aroma of pork pie and sausage rolls), the greengrocer (rearranging his Bibb lettuce), and the fish shop (where hundreds of forlorn walleyes stared at the ceiling from ice-packed trays)—to circle southwest back to Heathrow, over Richmond Park where herds of the Queen’s own deer, coats steaming in the chill drizzle, huddled on hillsides thick with wet fern, under huge, squat, rain-black English oaks gnarled like the city through hundreds of years of plague, fire, war, Empire, and bombardment. “Courage,” exhorted the gold-lettered signs on fields of red, yet this wasn’t an imperial charge but merely a brand of beer.

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-from Coming Down Again  (Simon & Schuster)  / Open Road Media 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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About John Balaban

John Balaban is the author of twelve books of poetry and prose, including four volumes which together have won The Academy of American Poets' Lamont prize, a National Poetry Series Selection, and two nominations for the National Book Award. His Locusts at the Edge of Summer: New and Selected Poems won the 1998 William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America. He was named the 2001-2004 National Artist for the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society. In 2003, he was awarded a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship. In addition to writing poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, he is a translator of Vietnamese poetry, and a past president of the American Literary Translators Association. Balaban is Poet-in-Residence and Professor of English in the creative writing program at North Carolina State University in Raleigh.