Reading Poems of the American South (a tiny book of poems covering four centuries) coincided with my trip to New Orleans, mostly by accident since I found it months before, not knowing if I’d go. From these poems arise the drunken humidity and rain-glistening palmettos. The book includes poetry from a variety of voices, some long-time southerners, others passing by— those who stayed and were changed by this time and place. Like myself a few northerners (Walt Whitman, Langston Hughes…) escaped the urban chaos for quiet solitude beneath oak trees. And similarly they longed to stay. In these poems are languid hot days, hush hush mornings, scattered crows beckoning the night to see the sadness and beauty in the ruins.
Reverie in Open Air
I Saw in Louisiana A live-oak Growing
I saw in Louisiana a live-oak growing,
All alone stood it and the moss hung down from the
Without any companion it grew there uttering joyous leaves of dark green, And its look, rude, unbending, lusty, made me think of
myself, But I wonder’d how it could utter joyous leaves standing alone there without its friend near, for
I knew I could not,
And I broke off a twig with a certain number of leaves upon it, and twined around it a little moss, And brought it away, and I have placed it in sight in
It is not needed to remind me as of my own dear
friends, (For I believe lately I think of little else than of them,) Yet it remains to me a curious token, it makes me
think of manly love; For all that, and though the live-oak glistens there in Louisiana solitary in a wide flat space,
Uttering joyous leaves all its life without a friend a lover near,
I know very well I could not.
Donald Justice, for W.E.B & P.R.
Something of how the homing bee at dusk
Seems to inquire, perplexed, how there can be
No flowers here, not even withered stalks of flowers,
Conjures a garden where no garden is
And trellises too frail almost to bear
The memory of a rose, much less a rose.
Great oaks, more monumentally great oaks now
Than ever when the living rose was new,
Cast shade that is the more completely shade
Upon a house of broken windows merely
And empty nests up under broken eaves.
No damask any more prevents the moon,
But it unravels, peeling from a wall,
Red roses within roses within roses.
W.S. Di Piero
I’ll lick these screwfaced torches all night long
and chew the beads and blue doubloons that sail
from iron balconies mossy in the dark,
I’ll walk down Royal Street dressed as a sweet gum tree
pretending my back is front, big whiskey breath for all
who love this season of preparing. I’ll be ready
for denial, to put away all fat things, all spoils,
the meat and bulky jewels of wanting
anything, even the wish to want.
The King salutes us from his golden dragon.
He is our food today. Eat his bones, his furs,
his crown and scepter. Eat his fat throne and flesh,
his voice that laughs us into easy forgiveness.
I’ll eat the King and break his will inside me
and toward tomorrow mix him with my swallowed
pearls and coins and whiskey and days.
It is a rage against geometry:
The spiked fans of the palmetto arcing
Like improvised brushstrokes in the light breeze;
Like shadowplay, somewhere a dog barking.
Against the height of new and old brick walls,
Confounding stone, transplanted pine and palm
Lift in imperfection, as heavy bells
That would force order fade into the calm
Of azure and a faint scent of musk.
(Is it eucalyptus or just the past?)
There’s nothing in this warm, vegetal dusk
That is not beautiful or that will last.