Wednesday, April 26, 2023

New Orleans, April 2023

My childhood home is planted in a garden within a garden.
The streetcar two blocks away still rumbles in and out of Doppler shift.
The fertile crescent of St. Charles Avenue, Mesopotamia reborn,

curves gently between the rhythm of a river and a lapping lake.
Everything blossoms, azaleas and crepe myrtles and King Solomon’s fields.
The colors flash friendly beneath the impossibly-blue sky

as I ride by Sacre Coeur, where koi and nuns still swim in veiled prayer.
Cafes and gentrified shotguns are camouflaged by curling green tendrils
that bind Magazine to Prytania faster than power lines and matchstick poles.

I see my ghost on every corner, from childhood to the man,
Wordsworth writing verse while perched in the elbow of a hundred-year oak.
The riverbend slingshots me onto Carrolton Avenue, a straight shot

to Bayou St. John, still waters where I am baptized with memories
of early-morning commutes to open stacks and seminars.
The levees and pines watch Pontchartrain kiss the stone steps of the seawall,

and Mardi Gras Fountain holds the center of gravity for wind and sun and grass.
I wear my ghost like a windbreaker as I watch sails pitch and yaw
on the rolling tide of afternoon, late in the day, late in life.

The city is as I remember it save for cosmetic surgery and Tulane coeds,
all of whom carry small block monoliths so they may speak with Hal.
I backtrack. The cemetery, St. Louis Number Three, is whitewashed

so that skulls and bones no longer frighten me. I sit on a park bench
and hear the freighter’s horn that will carry us all away,
but not yet. I open a book of poems, the lines holding me in place for now.

~William Hammett

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