Picking Up Alan Catlin in Schenectady
by Bunkong Tuon

Alan emailed me, “I’m thinking
of heading over to Dan’s Place
for the open mic. Interested?”
This was the guy who had written
over forty books of poetry and prose,
published in small magazines
and journals all over America.
I wrote, “Yeah, man. Absolutely.”
I backed my tiny silver Prius
out of my two-car garage,
drove through the quiet suburb
of Niskayuna, passed the home
of a colleague whose first book
examined Satan as a Marxist
rebel against a Capitalist God;
across from him lived an engineer,
the only other Asian in this safe
neighborhood with mowed grass,
kept flowers, pristine yards.
Then I got onto Union, took a left
on McClellan, stopped at a light.
A mother pushed a Price Chopper
cart across the street, her little children
trailing behind. The light changed.
I took a left on Bradley, then a quick right
onto Furman. More kids on the street
and sidewalk than in a baseball game
in Blatnick Park. I pulled over.
A teenage girl stood in her front lawn,
arms folded, eyes watching. She looked
like my cousin with her stance both defiant
and defensive. I took out my I-phone.
Alan picked up, said his house
was further down, closer to State,
apologized for not waiting outside,
said someone was killed, a drug deal
gone sour, near his doorsteps last night.

PHOTOGRAPH: “State Street, Schenectady, New York” by Donna Abbott Vlahos (The Business Review).


NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I lived in Schenectady, New York, for six years before recently moving to Niskayuna, a town that sits on Schenectady’s eastern border. The poem, in which our narrator drives from his suburban home in Niskayuna to pick up a fellow poet in the State Street area of Schenectady, is about the peculiar relationship between these two places. Also recently, I discovered that Alan Catlin, who has been publishing for years in independent journals and small presses across America, actually lives close by. The poem is my homage to Catlin, who at first glance seems to be the Bukowski of the East Coast but, upon further reflection, is a true poet in his own right.

PHOTO (above): Poet Alan Catlin


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Bunkong Tuon teaches writing and literature in the English Department at Union College, in Schenectady, New York. His forthcoming publications include Nerve Cowboy, Mas Tequila Review, Chiron Review, and Patterson Literary Review. Gruel, his first full-length collection, is forthcoming from NYQ Press.