Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Post-Katrina Mardi Gras Poem & Some Thoughts on the Holidays

Post-Katrina Mardi Gras

Katrina, huffy hurricane, howler, home wrecker,
how could New Orleans celebrate after the likes of you?

was it not your winds, but your rains that broke the levees?
left homes lopsided, lives lost or misplaced
in the wake of the flood?
how much more did you take away?

Lakes Ponchartrain and Borgne swelled and
spewed mighty waters as if from Neptune’s mouth,
south across the Ninth Ward, Arabi, Chalmette.
that God of the Sea was the one in our living rooms,

if he didn’t climb all the way up to the roof,
he at least was knocking at our door.

“But not having Mardi Gras in New Orleans
would be like not having Christmas,” some say,
while carnival floats awaiting next year’s celebration,
were “floating” the streets after levees gave way.

“Fat Tuesday” had grown so slim,
you could count its bones,
could New Orleans ever gain back
what Katrina had stolen away?

but somehow trumpets sounded, drums pounded,
whistles blew, maracas shook in anticipation,
and NOLA pushed Mardi Gras plans ahead
taking pride in its annual February vacation,

as exuberant, gaudy and giddy as it seemed,
to forget past troubles, take new time to dream.

could it happen between building and tearing down,
between devastation and renovation,
with people displaced all over the place?
could it happen among those on their way back,

and those who still had a long way to go?
it happened.

down St. Charles Avenue and Canal Street,
crowds applauded krewes on floats
with fewer members, lost to Katrina,
wildly caught “throws” of bead necklaces

and flashy doubloons that showered down,
cheered marching high school bands
from flooded-out high schools,

caught up as ever in the annual whirlwind
of lavish masks, hats, and costumes,
profuse confetti and striped umbrellas
up and down so many noise-filled streets,

while other streets stood silent amidst collapsed roofs, overturned cars,
roadways strew with muddy shoes, furniture and stuffed toys,
Ash Wednesday come early.

much disappeared,
much had washed away,
but the Crescent City felt mighty pretty
when Mardi Gras kept its day.

laissez les bon temps roulez

This poem originally appeared in a shorter form in Midnight Circus: Holidays issue from EAB Publishing 2014.

More personal ponderings on favorite or fraught-ridden holidays: Some of my unique holiday experiences are particularly centered around a holiday of a more personal nature: my birthday. Turns out I usually have to work on my birthday, even when it lands on a weekend. For several years running, I needed to fly out and work a trade show in Las Vegas for a certain company, always with my birthday smack dab in the middle of the stay.

You might think it’s fun to go to Vegas on your birthday, but after being on the convention floor for nine hours, then out to dinner to talk biz with clients after that, the urge to party, celebrate, gamble or even take a swim when an early morning wake-up call awaited me, well then…you know the rest. Other times, I’ve given nail-biter nervous presentations or had all-day offsite workshops scheduled on my birthday.

One year, a huge snowstorm had me stuck in the airport on business on my birthday, which I consider time on the clock. I once started a new job on my birthday, so I certainly couldn’t take that day off. All I can say is, despite the chances to sit back and bask in the glow of a real birthday gathering, and believe me I’ve had those, too, if only several days after the real date -- I think a personal hidden message for me is that my birthday is a celebration of being employed, and I should be thankful for that. And I am, especially when so many other people are yearning for a steady job in this economy.

My favorite holiday is Halloween. Not for the obvious reasons. It lies in the simple fact that fall is my favorite season. Labor Day is a little too early, still feeling summery where I live in Chicago. And by Thanksgiving, there may be snow on the ground. So Halloween is conveniently situated smack in the middle of fall. While I’m not as enamored with ghosts, monsters and ghouls, I surely favor the brilliant crimsons, fiery oranges and glowing yellows of autumn leaves, pumpkins and squashes available for the table, and the crisp air that kicks me outdoors to take brisk walks through leaf-strewn streets that the holiday of Halloween also celebrates.

A pretty worthless holiday might be Sweetest Day. As if Valentine’s Day didn’t put enough pressure on everyone. The card and gift companies surely devised this holiday to add an extra October boost to usual slow sales before the Christmas holiday. When I hear the term “Sweetest Day,” it reminds me of old geezers I used to serve when I was a waitress who called out, “Hey sweetie, get me another cup of coffee and an ashtray, would’ya?” Sweetest Day leaves a sour taste in my mouth.

Another worthless thing is that only about one in 10 couples might celebrate Sweetest Day, if that. But when that 10 percent of the celebrants show photos of their gifts or outings marking that day, it leaves the other 90 percent of us feeling left out of something, not quite worthy. What commercial trickery!

My poem” Post-Katrina Mardi Gras” is part of a larger manuscript of holiday poems that I’m currently writing. The working title is “Holiday Palooza,” but I think I can come up with better title if given half the chance. I believe holidays are an important, if not vital, part of our culture. It’s a time to share food and traditions. It’s a time to talk to one another. It’s a time to consider who we are as a people and to feel part of something bigger than ourselves, in a collective way. I feel that observing rituals such as holidays are as essential as language, cuisine, spiritual beliefs, history and ethics in defining us all as human beings.

Read what other writers in the Midnight Circus anthology had to say about their favorite or least favorite holidays.
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1 comment:

Sharon said...

Kudos, Cindy. A great poem. I was drawn into the celebration.