Preview Issue 01.01.06

Backyard | by Andrea Avery

Hidden Pulleys on Balcony Four | by Aaron Belz

The Bars of Our Fathers | by Thom Fletcher

Deep in the heart of Chesterfield: A city rat considers the suburbs | by Chris King

Coffeehouse | by Michaela McGinn

This Way Chuck Berry | by Thomas R. Raber

Sonnet: PSA | by Tony Robinson

Stardust in a Phrygian Key | by Stefene Russell

Sophomores | by Julia Smillie

The Ghosts of Winifred Moore | by Mike Steinberg

Four Days Behind the Iron Curtain, or, I'm With the Band | by Mary Kaye Tonnies

Late Night Radio | by Brett Underwood


Deep in the heart of Chesterfield: A city rat considers the suburbs | by Chris King

Pond Sketch                                          Illustration: CHRIS KING

When homesickness finally got the better of me and I persuaded my wife, Karley, to move to St. Louis from New York, she negotiated two conditions: I would not stay out all night playing music in bars, and she got to pick the house.

We both knew what that meant. I had been a rock musician in a former life, “former” being essential to the health of our marriage, and I remain a city rat with a taste for diversity, which in my case is another way of saying I like to be around black people.

Karley is a black person, black as a starless night. She grew up in West Africa, surrounded only by black people. She, too, has a taste for diversity, which led her to the U.S. and into the arms of this strange white guy. Living among black folks did not figure into her priorities. She wanted a big, nice house with a little land in a premium school district. The race of our neighbors was not relevant to her.

Left to me, our house hunt would have started and ended on the near South Side. Left to her, we were headed for that domain, fearful to a city rat, known as The County.

Our first stop, horror of horrors, was Chesterfield.

Let me tell you what I knew about Chesterfield. In my rocker days, my band often played Columbia, Missouri, and we had girlfriends there. Mine was a sad redhead with a generous heart and what a bandmate described as “really nice hindquarters.” She grew up and spent her summers in Chesterfield, which she loathed. I could see why, the one time I visited her there. I remember driving what seemed like 10 miles along some white wooden horse-farm-like fence and turning into a subdivision of palatial, alienated houses. One face of hell.

“I get to pick the house,” Karley reminded me, as I said dismissive things about Chesterfield during our house tour. The longer our house search prolonged, however, the further west we drifted.

After looking at 10 houses in some hinterland known as “Wildwood,” Chesterfield proper began looking close to the city. I was actually overjoyed when we found a house that we both liked, just off that road with the horse-farm fence, deep in the heart of Chesterfield.

Several months of hard house-hunting in the suburbs will do a few things to a city rat. It had defeated me and, as you can see, completely scrambled my sense of place. “Well, it’s not Wentzville,” was not something I had ever thought I would say in praise of my domicile.

But I had promised, after all, and Karley had upheld her end of the bargain by moving me home, so there was nothing to do but make the most of it.

A small but important incentive slept between us in bed: Leyla, our two-year-old, for whose sake I would live in ex-urban Las Vegas and make a living handing out leaflets for hot casino deals, if I had to. Leyla’s safety and schooling had been Karley’s first priorities, and now the girl is all set, or should be. A little mermaid, she also has a pool behind her new house to swim in, and a pond, surprisingly busy with wildlife, spreads behind that.

The pond has softened me on Chesterfield. It’s an honest old farm pond, perhaps big enough (the defining size is four acres) to justify the “lake” moniker given it by the neighborhood association. The association wisely zoned a wide swath around our pond and an adjoining one as common land and forbid residents who live on either pond, as we do, from fencing in their back yards. There is, therefore, a mandatory sense of openness. As a result, those of us who live on the water may look or stroll out our back doors and almost feel like we are in the country.

I have become a folding-chair naturalist over the course of many amazingly undisturbed mornings spent watching the sun emerge over a clutch of trees to reveal a complex web of waterfowl life going about its ancient, peaceful business. A cousin of mine who knows science likes to remind me that birds are dinosaurs. When I peek into my Egyptology, I see these same creatures carved onto the pyramid walls. They’ve been there.

My brief time in Chesterfield has seen me engulfed in personal tragedy, as my friend Hunter Brumfield killed himself and then my big sister, Lori Anne King, succumbed to cancer. At the same time, a pair of storms down South suddenly devastated our country, both spiritually (what dead souls could let New Orleans disappear and do absolutely nothing?) and materially. A traffic jam out of Texas that snakes for 100 miles looks like the end of something called our way of life. You know, the one we defend by invading Iraq.

What does this have to do with Chesterfield and me?

I would have guessed that living in the suburbs would have made me feel, somehow, like a patch of the cancer, a fragment of the alienation of spirit and space that prepared us for what sure looks like the end. In fact, this particular house in this particular neighborhood has saved a little bit of my mind and even soul by letting me see the problems of the present from a very old and well adapted point of view.
Ode to duck
You were a special
On a Greek menu, braised
Or a cartoon, beak
Inverted & smoking
Part of a dumb joke (Did
Somebody step on a …?)
Cry to avoid the pain
Of incoming projectiles
Or a Long Island hockey team
Something men from my town
Killed with elaborate preparations
Hiding in something called a blind
or a memorable disco song.

I never knew you until now.
Now, you are a bird
A bird that flies, and swims
And sort of waddles.
You get around pretty good
In every element but fire,
Creature of peace and quiet
Ritual renewed each day.

Duck, I found you in the pond
Behind my brand new house, right
When Hunter killed himself
Just before my sister died
And, right after Lori, the city
Of New Orleans down the toilet
Of itself, unwanted as feces.
Through it all I watched you
Your peace and unfussed ritual
Such a different order of animal
Than this one watching you,
I from the tribe of suicide

Cancer and disaster, duck.


Chris King is editorial director of the St. Louis American, co-founder of Hoobellatoo and Skuntry, plays in the band Three Fried Men, and watches the ducks on the pond every chance he gets.