Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Forgotten Borough: Writers Come to Terms With Queens

When I wrote Madonna of the Toast I lived in Astoria, Queens. These days Jackson Heights, Queens, is home. I mention this because I have an essay in the forthcoming book Forgotten Borough: Writers Come to Terms With Queens. Edited by Nicole Steinberg, the book contains Queens-centric fiction and nonfiction by writers that live, or have lived, here. I don’t have a copy of the book yet, but judging by the contributors I’m sure it is lively and eclectic, like Queens.

My piece riffs on the citizens of the borough using the Hell Gate Bridge (the photograph above is of the bridge’s viaduct arches at sunset, shot by yours truly) as a metaphorical thread to tie everything together, in my mind at least. Queens will never receive the same cultural cred as Manhattan or Brooklyn, but that’s why I love it.

Here’s a little taste of “To Bridge: The Spaces Between, Behind, and Around Us”:

Fierce tides and the traffic of industry were the East River’s song. But now, multilingual soundtracks of ice cream trucks, revving engines and the flotsam of a consumer culture—broken glass, food wrappers, old, faded shoes and tires, slapping, tinkling, rattling— these are the new songs that rise and fall along the tidal shore: the songs of Queens.

Mournful, bronzed autumnal sunset draws out the day like taffy, long and unrelenting. Ambling amid rattling leaves, two men speak Greek. Their shoulders sway like the river; their punctuations flash like whitecaps. Squealing girls careen their bicycles around the two who move along, seemingly oblivious. Perhaps they speak of the old country, a foreignness to them that seems impenetrable, far removed from the country they stroll through. But then the reality of their context is made clear as one of the men, in heavily accented English, says “freedom of speech,” followed by laughter—the punch line to some joke.

Kudos to Steinberg for putting this collection together and to SUNY for publishing it. Check out the book’s blog for more info.