To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Monday, October 21, 2013

Marthe Reed: Five Poems from Binx’s Blues, with a Note on the Process

On lines from Walker Percy 


still burning
sky over Gentilly 

it is easily overlooked
strange island 

the slightest interest
New Orleans 

sags like rotten lace
behind high walls 

a week before Mardi Gras
warm wind 

and bearing it
the street looks tremendous 

commencing to make a fire 

the very sound of winter mornings
streaming with tears 

the mantelpiece
an evening gown 

against the darkening sky
so pleasant and easy 

old world
gone to Natchez 

a houseboat on Vermillion
more extraordinary 

the sky
into her upturned face 

her eyes
a soundless word 

ample and mysterious
a litter of summers past 


a fresh wind
transfigures everyone
stray bits and pieces
not distinguishable

a peculiar thing
August sunlight
in yellow bars

the mystery
of those summer afternoons
the islands in the south
going under 

such a comfort
a corner of the wall
shallow and irregular

the happiest moment
the oddness of it
Carrollton Avenue early in the evening
like a seashell

her fingers on the zinc bar
cold and briney
like a boy who has come into a place
already moved


inside the wet leaves
the smell of coffee
the Tchoupitoulas docks

Negro men carry children
the flambeaux bearers

showering sparks
“Ah now!”

like crusaders
leaning forward
whole bunches of necklaces

that sail
toward us on horseback
loose in the city

the entire neighborhood


simulacrum of a dream
like a sore tooth
commoner than sparrows

celebrating the rites of spring
yellow-cotton smell
thumb-smudge over Chef Menteur

the bright upper air
the world is all sky

a broken vee
suddenly white
the tilting salient of sunlight

diesel rigs
glowing like rubies
nothing better 

over Elysian Fields
who really wants to listen

in the thick singing darkness
in a streetcar

an accidental repetition
her woman’s despair
a little carcass

a kiss on the mouth
not even
the earth has memories of winter


the sidewalks, anyhow
virginal, as
perfect lawns
fog from the lake

seeing the footprint on the beach
a queer thing
tunneled by
new green shoots

black earth
the very words
full of pretty

connive with me
down the levee
a drift of honeysuckle
oil cans

forget about women
the sunshine
along her thigh
the tiny fossa

saved me
facet and swell
tilting her head
far away as Eufala
Writing South Louisiana, a Note on the Process 

Nomad, belonging accidentally and always at some remove to the places I find myself inhabiting, how root into these places, shift from being outside or between? Neither here nor there. After living eleven years in south Louisiana, drawn to the richness of its cultures, landscape, and history, painfully aware of the human brutality and environmental crises comprised therein, the sustained, willful political short-sightedness, I sought a language of place that could complicate as well as deploy the contradictory experiences of attachment and alienation without falling into the tropes of “awe/wonder”—othering the world of which we are inevitably, inextricably a part—and angry didacticism. I turned to extant texts: Florula Ludoviciana, an 1807 flora of the state first published in Paris by C. C. Robin and then in English with emendations by Constantine Rafinesque,EPA reports, reportage from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina (2005) and the BP Oil Macondo blowout (2010), oral histories, and novels written and set in south Louisiana, among many sources. Of the latter, I drew upon Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer, perhaps the quintessential novel of New Orleans, or at least white New Orleans of a particular moment, and Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, from which these pieces are derived. Attending to passages in which particulars of place were most evident, I isolated these as source-material. Cutting and juxtaposing short phrases (each line-break is an intact cut from the original) to create texts that afforded a means of writing about place, healing to a degree the otherness of my outsider status and perhaps in other ways, highlighting it, while also foregrounding language. These cut-ups move sequentially forward in the source texts and juxtapose an urban experience with a rural one.  The cutting technique gave permission to write about south Louisiana, affording a way in to this place, which is simultaneously mine and not mine at all.

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