He landed here last on no business, a Lockheed man in a Boeing town, so that night we parked at the river and watched it because he wanted it that way. He was absorbed in sussing the pinspots of the approach pattern above, but I asked my father, recalling the great sunlit Plash into which I once lost myself while looking out from a seat on Metro North passing Nyack on the other side, What makes one river run faster than another?
The answer? he said, Obvious. Slopes differ. Look, isn’t St. Louis farther from the Delta than is Tarrytown from whatever mouth the Hudson at last rolls from?
Slope, of course, I said, but what slope? I swear, the river before us was flat as water. And it is my mouth to which all this rolls and stops.
No, no, what I want to say is that these long gutters of the continent are fluted and foiled and battered like old Thud wings—please forget for a moment that wing must always remain the sworn opposite of gutter or, otherwise, the world would be such that the case of anything said to drain might also be said to fly.
Like “Thud was what they named them since that was what the F-105S did in the mud of northern Vietnam.” My father really said that once. But forget now speed and lift and everything he knows about the business. Think again of how far the Gulf lies from where you parked us, says the engineer of aerospace, and you tell me the principle at work isn’t bottom slope.
But already I am on to something new. I say we name everything after noise.
—Neal Durando is from Fort Worth, Texas. He oversees the papers of James Merrill housed at Washington University.