Some Thoughts Driving Through Matawan New Jersey
There’s no mill on Mill Road anymore.
A bridge crosses over a parched river bed where weeds & wild flowers
shelter among the shattered remnants of Friday beers.
I pass the dry cleaners, a thrift store, ice cream stand,
some lone seagull perched on a stop sign, & marvel
how in May light the whole town’s picturesque or maybe
it’s just the sun causing the pollen film that covers everything
to glow golden. Hey, hay fever. Hey, young love.
Spring does what it always does, & the high school seniors strut
in their finery. Prom tonight. The future tomorrow.
Isn’t that always the way, though I try to catch a second glimpse
in the rearview. Diamond sign presages an S curve,
so I toe the brakes, slow down near a bar with no name,
just neon signs announcing cocktails & happy hour.
It harkens back to when the mill still distributed steady checks
& promises of a pension. In its dim corners muted laughter,
or is that sobbing? Sad lightthrob of a silent jukebox.
I’ve been in bars just like this in Kalamazoo, in Cumberland, in Corning:
the regulars revising the glory days of the Reagan administration
& their high school pigskin stories. There’s always one moment
of bad luck—a blown catch, a broken tibia, a lost season—
always, too, someone talking about leaving,
says he’s got a full tank of gas, a train ticket, someone waiting.
Tramps like us, baby. Springsteen on the car radio,
I’m only 20 miles from Asbury Park after all.
We went there one long ago Saturday after a prom,
skinny dipping in the May Atlantic although we never went beyond
knee deep. Oh, the way her untanned skin glowed in the half moon.
Was it her breasts or the cold that made me gasp?
Back then the nakedness of any body held wonders I couldn’t believe
I would ever understand. Later, we sat on the sand, both of us
ashiver, goose bumps on our legs almost touching, & she
told me how her father had just been laid off
or was it that he’d just moved out. I can’t be certain anymore, but
I know we were alone, we weren’t in love, but we were free
& that counted for something right then because
anything seemed possible despite the tide coming in.
Gerry LaFemina is the author of numerous collections of poetry, fiction, and criticism. In 2022 he’ll have two new books released: The Pursuit: A Meditation on Happiness (creative nonfiction) and The American Ruse (poems). He is a Professor of English at Frostburg State University, serves as a mentor in Carlow University’s MFA program, is a Fulbright specialist in Writing and American Culture, and fronts the punk rock band The Downstrokes.