by Anne Whitehouse
In this city the Church had dominion over the dead,
but the dead would not stay buried.
They rose up out of the ground
when the river overflowed and the ground turned to water.
Fevers, vapors, and miasmas circulated,
the air so humid it was another form of water.
Pale, wide, and muddy, the river loomed,
and the earth opened up, spilling out pestilence.
It’s a wonder that anyone remained
after the floods and epidemics,
the storms and hurricanes,
but the city was hard to leave once its charms ensnared you
like those shimmering gossamer webs of sunlight
that hang over the heavy magnolia leaves
after a rain clears the late afternoon
and the sky turns pink. In old, high-ceilinged rooms
with their heavy crown moldings,
fans mimic a breeze, and the rows of shotgun houses
are swept by breezes, front to back.
A repast outside a funeral home after a burial
spills its exuberance onto the street.
People are drinking and swaying
to the blaring euphonies of a brass band
in free-form improvisation.
Death and sadness are right there,
but a bright band of frenzy
has trapped the despair and contained it,
and the only notes we hear are those of joy.
PHOTO: Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, New Orleans, Louisiana. Photo by Colin Ross, used by permission.
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: “New Orleans” was inspired by a trip to New Orleans a few years ago, particularly the tour I took of Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 and by our fortuitously coming across a repast outside a funeral home.
PHOTO: Entrance to Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, New Orleans, Louisiana. Photo by Mein Zahn, used by permission.