Here is an excerpt from The Gist of Elijah chosen for its seasonal appropriateness. (What an awful, ugly word--appropriateness--I shall never use it again, not even when it is appropriate.) Reminder: The narrator (Justin Latterly) is writing the biography of a poet--one Elijah Stenson; and here, Justin is fresh from a fight with his off-again, off-again girlfriend.
With several hours to kill before my session with Stenson, I drove to Klieger Park. The parking lot was empty except for two cars—a brown station wagon and a blue Civic like mine. I parked under a maple as far away from the other cars as the small gravel lot allowed and sat for fifteen minutes too sapped of will to budge. The speakers crackled Johnny Cash. I brooded and let the music sink me deeper like a bullet weight on a fishing line. The day was clear, sun bright in the rearview, one cloud trolling the sky through my windshield. I should get out and let the early autumn do its trick.
If I was a poet, I’d write of autumn. If I was Elijah Stenson, I’d cast my lines in the reds that begin to bruise beneath the greens of summer. In Virginia, as a child, when poetry was still possible, I cherished the distinct flavor of fall. Each breeze brought the burning of leaves or the barks of front-yard football. You stepped out the door and life welcomed you, still so young, in on the secret of its seriousness. Not much. Not enough to quell the thrill of the pirate you’ll be come Halloween or the Indian come Thanksgiving. But just a tinge of decay, a redolence of the grave. Something that, at the time, smells pumpkin-spiced and feels hackled with cold weather.
I got out of the car. The gravel crunched and gave way beneath my heavy working boots—the ones with steel toes for protection against dropped boxes or the collapse of heavy equipment. In my rush to skip Dodge, those shoes were the readiest at hand but they made for sore hiking. Nevertheless, I tromped across the lot, past the other two cars, and onto to the paved walking track. I headed for the river against the direction of the cartoon duck feet painted on the asphalt. I almost turned to go the long way—the pull of arbitrary obedience absurdly strong—but gathered courage and continued counter-clockwise, blue and yellow duck feet be damned.
The river was strong with recent rain. Fallen limbs and plastic bottles rode the rapids like a rodeo cowboy on a bronco. The water was high against the jutting banks; thick tree roots cut extra eddies into the roil. I wished for a kayak. At the mere thought, my bowels cramped and grew warm. Just shove off and dive in. Parry the rocks and fight the flumes. Then somewhere down the line, smash into the Cahaba River and go and go and go. I had never kayaked in my life. The fact didn’t even faze me. By the time I heard the dog bark, I had nearly reached the Gulf of Mexico.