It was a return trip, a bucket list type of thing. My memories had faded of this city, home of a favorite author, full of amazing architecture and wonderful food. A steamboat sung and paddled on the Mississippi, memories of the riverbank quickly replaced by many closed factories with bent piers devoid of ships. The open French market bustled with life, baskets and open-jawed baby alligator heads with glass eyes, petrified bird claws at voo-doo stands, the aroma of Beignets from Café DuMonde wafting through the air, cups of steaming café au lait in every hand, even my own.
In a sidewalk doorway, his face importune, I noticed dirt-smudged cheeks, a gaunt frame like rickety scaffolding. A small black dog and he huddled together, a worn blanket around them both, friends under a gray sky, as a chill day threatened rain. Anything will help, on a sign handwritten at his feet. I handed him my still-wrapped Muffuletta sandwich.
Walking on past loud clubs, Crazy Corner and House of Blues, past street musicians, raucous with rhythm and laughter, my thoughts were askew, in contrast to the homeless man and dog. What had I expected in this, the city of endless drinking and music? Not the abject poverty, not boarded up houses, long abandoned, several years after Katrina. As I moved slowly along streets full of still-ruined buildings and cars up on blocks, I saw children playing innocently alongside parents, faces deeply lined with despair.
One building, a massive wall crumbling to pale powder – chalky white, flakes of pink lay in slivers on the dark pavement. I look up at this old hulk, bricks a sun-faded russet, with loose fine dust barely holding between the courses, a mortarous barrage waiting to rain down;once standing steadfast against winter storms, now broken free under the hot sun, baking dry any last remnants of moisture. The wall appears to slough off in a shower of forgotten fragments, an exfoliation of time, exposing an under-layer anxious to be seen.
Finally, I saw a young man with a crudely drawn sign on cardboard, “Poetry on Demand”. He was poised on a stool; in front of him was a fruit crate on which balanced an old manual Smith-Corona typewriter. Being a poet myself, I was intrigued and allowed him to create in five minutes, a poem describing my visit to this famed city. On a scrap of paper, brilliant words shouted words of my life, a lone poet wandering streets filled with happy travelers, feeling somehow out of place, feeling more drawn to a homeless man and his dog and a student selling poems. I handed him some money, knowing I would return home with a souvenir much more me than a sequined tee shirt.
Julie A. Dickson