Here’s my Southern Legitimacy Statement: Is geographic location enough in this instance…? I guess for me, it’s going to have to suffice. I’m from generations of hardcore New Yorkers. The city of my birth, most of my education, and my formative years shaped me in ways I feel down to the very corpuscles of my beautifully greasy blood. I moved to New Orleans from Santa Monica, California, almost twelve years ago, but I was no stranger to this place, having breathed its wet–sometimes sweet, sometimes fetid, sometimes both–air for the first time when I was in my second year of undergrad in NYC.
Spring break loomed and I managed to get my job to give me a coinciding week of the vacation time I’d earned so I could hit New Orleans. Was part of the desire to go there compelled by the idiotic need to flap around in the heady murk of my own post-adolescent version of debauchery? You bet. But at that point in my life, I’d never seen the South. I’d traveled internationally and seen hunks of the US, but not the South. So I bought a bus ticket so I could lay my eyes on its earth, towns and cities, and people, and set out. The terrain was gorgeous in many parts and most folks were cool, and the bus ride to New Orleans and back inspired many road trips to come in my life so I could explore on my own terms, but New Orleans snagged me pretty bad.
After a couple of days of acting predictably foolish (but nothing flagrant), the already honed traveler in me finally woke up and really saw the city: the achingly diaphanous beauty that was in a constant squabble with poor decisions and antiquated frameworks and conventions that still linger to this day. I remain grateful I was able to get acquainted with this city before the Storm, too. I visited many times, always checking out neighborhoods well beyond the Quarter, but also always making at least one symbolic lap on Bourbon Street, if only for the ugly chaos.
I realized I would move here one spring day about fourteen years ago, as I walked through Carrollton and became duly intoxicated by the afternoon light filtering through the trees and what felt like every flower known to humanity in full bloom at once. It never was a part of the plan; I still dislike summers here, which means about half the year. Though I intended to teach college when I moved here, I wound up working in and around the incomparable culture of the city. I started documenting its music and culture when I was working with a concert series and individual artists and needed photos for publicity purposes and social media. However, I have had a camera in my hands since I was a small kid. Documentation of the culture in New Orleans is a combination of art, homage, and service. I am fortunate to participate as I do.
Oh, and I still write…sometimes even about this city that is my home.
Directions Defy Horizons
I don’t know why mosquitoes have a preference for the crescent under my right shoulder blade. Their bites cluster there like the messy growths I had burned off when I was twelve, leaving me with a soft, gummy scar and a newfound fondness for cryogenics.
Sound all around is messy today and I’m itchy because the Natchez calliope is a half step in the wrong direction as its gleeful frothy tones bob my way across the river tangling with a hodgepodge of six different birds (cardinal-mockingbird-warbler-sparrow-blue jay-crow) and the bad taste in teevee or movies of the workpeople who have nested in the other half of our shotgun double. I resent their need for homely comforts in a place that is all echo and obviously not theirs.
When it’s a street name, people in New Orleans pronounce calliope kallyOPE like lope like nope like pope like trope like isotope. They say Milan with a long ‘i’ instead of the humble, quiet, barely extant bump of an ‘i’ in the namesake for the street Uptown that sends your tongue careening into the accented second syllable. Burgundy is BurGUNdy and Chartres is Charters. Get used to it, I am told, or people will know you’re not from here.
I’m not. I’m just another asshole New Yorker. The culture and the people here will never let me leave though. It’s early April, and summer is already baring its teeth and the mosquitoes know where to meet up on my back.
The sumptuous chaos
the leathery beats
of a thousand cedar waxwings
If you’re shaped like a spear
you move like a dart
I water a territorial anole
If I could I’d live forever
in the fluid indigo
of a swallowtail’s shadow
The trees joyfully unjaded
shudder with hungry mouths
pure, plaintive summons
before you name it
without regard for dates
your early invitation is here
Saturnine clumsy clatter of thunder
somewhere on the other side of the river
live oaks stretch over St. Charles
their vined limbs open hymnals
lifting quiet chords in praise
of the jumbled beauty that makes a city
asphalt melts into itself and the water below
vapors as vespers as whispers
all rise and flow as one ethereal ribbon
we trundle to our church, made of air and music
the only gods are movement and sound
spontaneous bogs and mini-marshlands
link us to our basest known exquisite bits
but do nothing to stop our feet from moving
cooling slicks of mud climb our calves
wholly electric, the brush of your shoulder
under a celestial communion of sweat
the lightning is much closer now
but maybe we can squeeze in
just one more song