I Been Working On The Railroad….

the Great Editor said he wanted to meet me
in person before he published my book.
he said most writers were sons of bitches
and that he just didn’t want to print anybody
who was
so since he paid the train fare
I went on down there to
New Orleans
where I lived around the corner from him
in a small room.

the Great Editor lived in a cellar with a
printing press, his wife and two
dogs.
the Great Editor also published a famous
literary magazine
but my projected book
would be his first try at
that.
he survived on the magazine, on luck, on
handouts.

each night I ate dinner with the Great
Editor and his wife (my only meal and
probably theirs too).
then we’d drink beer until midnight
then I’d go to my small room
open a bottle of wine and begin
typing.
he said he didn’t have enough
poems.
“I need more poems,” he said.

he had caught up on my back poems
and as I wrote the new poems he
printed them.
I was writing directly into the
press.

around noon each day I’d go around
the corner
knock on the window
and see the Great Editor
feeding pages of my poems
into the press.

the Great Editor was also the Great
Publisher, the Great Printer and a
many Great number of other things,
and I was practically the unknown
poet so it was all quite
strange.

anyhow, I would wave the pages at
him and he would stop the press
and let me in.
he’d sit and read the poems:
“hmmm…good…why don’t you
come to dinner tonight?”
then I’d leave.

some noons I’d knock on the
window
without any poems
and the great editor would stare
at me as if I were a
giant roach.
he wouldn’t open the door.

“GO AWAY!” I could hear him scream
through the window, “GO AWAY AND
DON’T COME BACK UNTIL YOU HAVE
SOME POEMS!”

he would be genuinely angry
and it puzzled me:   he expected
4 or 5 poems from me
each day.

I’d stop somewhere for a couple of
six-packs
go back to my room
and begin to type.
the afternoon beer always tasted
good and I’d come up with
some poems….

take them back
knock on the window
wave the pages.

the Great Editor would smile
pleasantly
open the door
take the pages
sit down and read them:
“umm… ummm… these are
good… why don’t you drop by
for dinner tonight?”

and that’s how we did
the book

and in between the afternoon
and the evening
I’d go back to my room
and sign more and more
colophons.
the pages were thick, heavily-
grained, expensive
designed to last
2,000 years.
the signings were slow and
laborious
writ upon with a special
pen…
thousands of colophons
and as I got drunker
to keep from going
altogether crazy
I began making drawings
and
statements…
when I finished signing the
colo’s
the stack of pages stood
six feet tall
in the center of the
room.

as I said
it was a very strange time
for an unknown writer.
he said it to me one
night:
“Chinaski, you’ve ruined
poetry for me… since I’ve
read you I just can’t read
anything else…”

high praise, indeed, but I
knew what he meant.

each day his wife stood
on the street corners
trying to sell paintings,
her paintings and the paintings
of other painters.
she was a beautiful and
fiery woman.

finally, the book was done.
that is, except for the binding;
the Great Editor couldn’t do
the binding, he had to pay for
the binding part and that
pissed him

but our job was done,
his and mine,
and the Great Editor and
his wife put me on the train
back to L.A.

both of them standing there
on the platform
looking at me and smiling
as I looked back from my
seat by the window.
it was
embarrassing…

finally the train started
to slowly roll
and I waved and they
waved
and then as I was
nearly out of sight
the Great Editor
jumped up and down
like a little boy
still waving…


I walked back to the bar
car and decided to stay
my trip
there…

it was some stops and
some hours later
when the porter came
back there:
“HENRY CHINASKI!   IS THERE
A HENRY CHINASKI HERE?”

“here my good man,”
I said.

“damn, man,” he said, “I’ve
been looking all over this
train for you!”

I tipped him and opened the
telegram:
“YOU’RE STILL A S.O.B. BUT
WE STILL LOVE YOU…
         Jon and Louise…”

I motioned the porter over
ordered a double scotch
on the rocks

then I had it
and I held it up a moment
toasted them an almost
lyrical blessing
then drank it down
as the train
rolled and swayed
working me further and further
away
from those magic
people.