This is a sketch from my forthcoming book called Union River: Poems and Sketches, due mid-spring from Bootstrap Press. If the book was a music album I think it would be categorized as "Americana," somewhere between folk, pop, classical, and adult contemporary in its forms and content. The writing covers forty years of work and delves into the places and people and events I've encountered in my "American Experience."
NINETEEN-SIXTY SIX was the UFO summer in New Boston Village and Crosby Heights, the former being the lowland in my growing-up neighborhood and the latter the wooded incline being rapidly cleared for houses. Mr. and Mrs. Ducharme on Cinderella Circle sat on their back porch every summer night with binoculars and a solar system map watching for odd lights in the sky. Cinderella had been a frog-breeding swamp, Gendreau’s Pond, filled in during the suburban land rush. Green leapers, languid in the heat, stretched their leopard-dot thighs behind them. Huge blue sewing-needles strafed us near algal water rife with hornpout and muskrats. That two adults made an observation post unnerved us on our Sting-Ray bikes cruising the loop of two-level homes in the long twilight after supper and obsessively checking in with the look-outs when the porch lights clicked on. One street over, unpaved, we poured sand on flaming signal pots and stepped into the whale-mouth bucket of a parked front-end loader. A name flew to us, a sing-song plea, “Eeeee-laine,” someone’s anxious mother calling in the dark.
The radio bled through the Ducharme kitchen window screen with a revved up talk-show host and callers re-hashing the latest news about the self-reported abduction of Betty and Barney Hill. The story had broken in a fast-selling book that was excerpted in the large-format Look magazine. The couple claimed to have been taken aboard a spaceship by lizard-eyed extraterrestrials wearing cadet caps who interrupted their homeward drive just south of the White Mountains in New Hampshire, a road I had traveled with my family. Under hypnosis the Hills described medical-type examinations both had been subjected to and were able to recreate a map that suggested that the aliens may have zoomed to Earth from a star system 37 light-years away, Zeta Reticuli. All this was gasoline to fire up 12-year-old brains already fueled with pop culture space-lore on television, from spooky series like The Outer Limits and Fantasmic Features hosted by the lightbulb-headed creature-character Feep to the jokey adventures of the cartoon Jetsons and Space Family Robinson on Lost in Space (the more knowing science-fiction of Star Trek premiered in September that year).
The Ducharmes and their older children would jump up and go to the railing facing south each time one of the parents called out about a streaking light over the cemetery a half-mile away. What’s that? It’s moving! They always swore they saw an orange blip inside the white dot.