Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Rhyme of New Orleans

Maureen and I were thinking the other night that there are too few poems written that have something to them of joy. As you may have experienced recently, there's been a move in some circles to circulate poems--poems that people have found engaging and affecting, particularly in a joyous or uplifting sort of way. There is of course no shortage of engaging and affecting poetry in the world, but E.E. Cummings and a few others excepted, there has been a dirth of poets who frequently write poetry expressive of joy--whether in some pure form or admixed with other emotions.

One such poem that comes to mind is Alice Oswald's "Wedding"; another is Carol Ann Duffy's "John Barleycorn." The latter is a poem very largely composed of the names of English pubs; re-reading it the other day (before I passed it along as a reading recommendation to one of these "Poem Exchange" groups) made me think that one could perhaps do something of the same sort with the names of bars in New Orleans. The poem below is the result of my effort to do just that (drawing on some of the material I'd included a few years back in a poem for Maureen). It didn't end up with as many bar-names as I'd thought it would, and the joy is certainly admixed with a few other emotions, but joy there is. For what it's worth:

Rhyme of New Orleans

New Orleans don’t rhyme with beans, or with means

That’s what they’ll tell you, uptown or downstream:

New Orleans don’t rhyme with beans.

But Satchmo did it—you know what it means...:

When it’s music it all becomes different, it seems,

The notes and the words flow like water, like dreams—

Like the dark and the deep of the river’s wide dreams

As it curls in the sparkle of night through New Orleans.

Rhyme New Orleans. Rhyme New Orleans and the music begins,

With full rhymes, fat rhymes, light rhymes, slant rhymes,

With high notes, low notes, bank notes. Light sins.

Rhyme thick air. Rhyme black and white and good times,

Rhyme Abita and amber, and rhyme good health,

Rhyme night and stomping, rhyme black and blue,

Rhyme like the river, turned back on itself

And stretching, aching, thrusting round, surging through,

And once or twice a lifetime, swamping

The city that once was the place where they sold the enslaved,

City of graves, city of cotton,

Time stretched, time lost, but nothing forgotten,

'Cept some days let’s pretend last night never happened.

The night is warm, the beer is cool,

There’s jazz, there’s blues, there’s someone rappin,

DBA, Hi Ho, they’re passing the hat,

Vaughan’s, the Mother-in-Law, Spotted Cat,

Blue Nile, Maple Leaf, the Candlelight Lounge,

Spare a dollar? I tell ya, I just gotta scrounge

A few bucks, buy a coffee, a meal;

I can tell ya, noone here really wants to steal.

Tipitina’s, Lost Love, the Friendly Bar--

All open late, and the door’s ajar:

That’s Chris Kohl’s clarinet, smooth as a knife;

Eight to the bar, hold a note like forever. Like life.

That tune? You can’t lose it; Time? You can’t choose it.

It’s time like the always and never of music,

Of everything music, of mockingbird music,

Like the always and never of

Living, of loving. Of love.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments welcome!