096.1: Amanda Auchter:: Do You Know What It Means & Harriet Beecher Stowe at the Cornstalk Hotel, New Orleans, 1850 & Gunshot Pastoral & The City That Care Forgot 096

New Orleans is just as much an idea, a fantasy, as it is a place, just as all the “great” cities are, and even some of the not-so-great ones. Through Amanda Auchter's eyes we see not so much documents of a city as much as stories informed and inspired by the legendary city that is New Orleans. These stories are as odd as they are beautiful. In the one persona poem of the set, we have a nineteenth century baroness speaking after she survives four gunshots from a spurned lover. “How animal in my desire/ to live: my body a plague// of gun-shots, starburst/ wounds” she says, and we hear echoes of Auchter's very personal earlier work where so often the speaker is Auchter herself. Among the accomplishments in this set is the way she makes these stories feel so personal.

In two poems, Louis Armstrong and Harriet Beecher Stowe are presented to us as if they were not mythical and mysterious figures of history, but real people whose lives were informed by this specific place and the circumstances of the time in which they lived. Auchter imagines Armstrong boarding an airplane to depart his city “Dark/ as a mouth with its teeth removed.” A place cannot be owned in the same way a time cannot be owned. Auchter has made some of the many almost unbelievable stories of New Orleans her own and in the process has given something of herself. In her forthcoming book's title poem, “The City That Care Forgot” we see the speaker come to this place “Not for the ruin/ of mosquito fever, food, the history// of bodies hung by the neck in trees,/ but how the river collects daylight, the sound// of trumpets in late afternoon.” Matthew Siegel

Do You Know What It Means

New Orleans, 1949

Satchmo, you returned to this paddleboat
city as King of Zulu, king

of blackface and grass skirts,
jazzed tongue blowing into the confetti

of beads. Louis, you returned
to your Storyville streets, the red lights

long gone out. You returned to the ghost

of your mother, her peignoir past noon, her body
a book flipped open. Here is your childhood,

the wheelbarrow, the coal you drug into dusk
before you could read, before

you could blow. Satchelmouth,
you waved your hand into the swamp

of memory, looked through
a window at ice clinking in glasses

you were not allowed to touch. You turned away,
boarded a plane, watched the city

grow distant. Dark

as a mouth with its teeth removed. The city,
a song you wrote at 30,000 feet.

Harriet Beecher Stowe at the Cornstalk Hotel, New Orleans, 1850

A man and a woman arrive together

in chains. His voice surfaces—
I shall try to meet you there—but I cannot

hear what follows. Tea cools in white china.
I think of horses, the way they walk back

and forth, hold up their heads. Horses,
the way a man in a coat turns them about,

opens their mouths, checks their teeth. Scars

on the flanks. A chimney gasps smoke
into the afternoon. The body looted. A child

plays a violin outside the stalls, watches
as women remove their handkerchiefs,

show their hands. A whip

weaves close to the ears. The balcony overlooks
a narrow street, a cart and driver.

The voices drift out, an edge

of an outline. The voices say, I hope
you will try to meet me in heaven.

I shall try to meet you there.

Gunshot Pastoral

In November 1834, Baroness Micaela Almonester de Pontalba was shot four times at point-blank range by her father-in-law Baron Joseph Delfau de Pontalba, who was enraged at her attempts to divorce his son, Celestin. She survived to go on to commission the famous Pontalba Apartments in New Orleans’ Jackson Square.

How animal I am in my desire
to live: my body a plague

of gun-shots, starburst
wounds. My body brooding in the damp

heat of breath, of the pistol-
echo in my ears. My fingers a broken nest

wrapped in sinew, bone. I listen to the red drum

of my heart, its blood a wind

carrying through me. I held my fingers up
to my chest, a motion of no

or stop. Each bullet collapsed
inside me, the red silking

through my clothes, the afternoon. How spectacular
the pain: a fire burning

through a dry field. A house undone. How alive
I am here in the winter light,

in the silver thread
of smoke. I held up my hands,

turned away.
My voice swung back into my throat.

The City That Care Forgot

You were here once; you will be here again.
—Joanna Klink

What brings you back is the sugared air

that seeps its way through
the streets. The scrolled iron balconies,
banana-leaved courtyards, gas lamps draped

with bright plastic beads. Not the water-

stained drywall, crushed fence, the X-
marked houses. Not the ruin
of mosquito fever, flood, the history

of bodies hung by the neck in trees,
but how the river collects daylight, the sound

of trumpets in late afternoon. You return to this

humid sweep, the second lines of handkerchiefs,
magnolia in every scene. Long ago,
this was the city that care forgot: mold-scarred,

splintered chairs washing upstream. A city
of tents, of wind-wrapped shutters, shotgun

houses. What brings you back. The city

turns its umbrellas in the sun, lights fire
for roux. What calls you: the music

of a gate opening onto Tchoupitoulas Street,
chicory-heat, the roof tiles

in the black sky. The water. The rising.