I visited New Orleans...but, it wasn't during Mardi Gras...and it wasn't in this decade. I was there when my oldest child was just two and M. and I were still so new to one another. Today, I am interested in soil and sand...in fire and water...elementals. I am interested in flowers trailing down wrought iron balcony rails in New Orleans and wondering about the state of the streets I stalked. Even then, I wanted an authentic experience far from the tourist traps and surface scene. Hurricanes were had by my companions and myself until, light-weight that I am, my brain rattled and spun...my skin was silk to me--I could have sat with my feet in that polluted dangerous Mississippi and rubbed my own arms all night long.
In so many ways, the whole French Quarter felt a prelude to a disaster. Men said hello, but really just dangled their beads--thinking that was why we were there. Married old lady, I wanted to scare them off when they sat trying to talk to my then-single-sister and her then-single-friend, spouting free verse and narrowing my eyes with something like, "I'm from the sea--the sky--I sprang fully formed from my father's brow. I rose from the water with seaweed growing into my hair. My body is wet sand and an ocean you'll never sink into. My body is blue--my heart, echoing waves. I want to devour the whole sky, my longing for it is so great. I want to birth the moon--my body waxing full and light. This is what I think about while you prattle on...It isn't your fault, but you are guilty anyway." But, the strangers wouldn't have been the only ones I scared off and New Orleans was not a town to visit alone.
New Orleans felt like a cemetery to me then--I felt ghosts tracing their fingers over my collarbones and kissing my spine. I wanted to sit on a cement stoop and watch the little boys pickpocket strangers--the lonely neon girls pressing themselves to thin panes of glass in the red-light district windows. I might have learned something from the midnight graveyard tour--but, we were warned away by the vagrants and robbers--only the dead were safe. My favorite moments came in the daylight hours when I sat on a bench and watched the street performers and tarot card readers sprawled out on the steps of a massive soot-covered church...neither seeming out of place with the other somehow. I was nearly out of money when I saw the wooden mask sculpture by a local artist beckoning me...so, I didn't eat dinner our last night there--I went hungry for art and now I have the curious countenance of the mask checking me out each day as I come and go from its perch on my wall. It was so worth it...
While I was there, I desperately missed M. and my baby girl. I had never been away from either of them before and I realized how I would forever be split between the places I thought I wanted to travel to and the home I wanted to never leave again. We passed the last burlesque on the strip on the last night and the girl's shadow crossed my body--for a split second, she was all over me with her wild movements and stiletto heels. I thought of the hours I spent at home making shadow puppets on the wall for my Petunia. We'd lie down on our backs in the bed and I'd find the right angle from the fluorescent streetlamp outside. Then, she'd lapse into silence and I'd make birds, bunnies, and dogs blossom in silhouette. The dancing girl's shadow burned across my skin and I brought her home with me from the city of excess...a tattoo no one could see but me...when I looked at myself once back on familiar ground, electric and alive in the darkness.