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Summer Local Writers Series: Feature 6: Jean-Mark Sens

The Summer Local Writers Series at NolaVie features works produced by New Orleans poets and prose-writers as part of NolaVie’s ongoing correspondence with the city’s arts and culture. The writers selected will be drawn from diverse sets of intellects in order to paint a broader picture of the relationship between language and community, art and structure. The series will focus on writing that speaks to these critical relationships.

Most importantly, the series aims to carry on New Orleans’ legacy as a literary entrepôt. We will experiment with various forms of supplemental material, but the center of each feature will be the text. Put simply, the Series seeks to spotlight some of the good writing that’s happening here, and we hope you enjoy it.

Jean-Mark Sens is a professor and librarian at Nicholls State University. He grew up in France, but has been living in the southern United States for more than two decades. He received his Ph.D from the University of Southern Mississippi and is currently working on a manuscript, In Guise of Disguise. The following poems are from this work.

Nail of Desire
After Restif de La Bretonne in Brassai’s Graffiti

Restif de La Bretonne
known as “le griffon,”
printer by occupation,
all over Ile Saint Louis parapets
incised his trembling desires.
The smell of the river Seine
in the drowning obscurity near by
a lightless night brimful of yearnings
no Spring shower could dampen
his tumescence of longing, stiff as a nail,
hard stones he carved in
confessing what the walls can’t relief.
Of his numerous graffiti,
time and his enemies all erased
Mes Inscriptions he self-published,
a far stencil of fading ink
slabs engraved as tombstones of desires
he inscribed  under the bridge where he last took his mistress--
Victoire ou le Bonheur
“to make the past live like the present moment”
his doom sublime.

***

Sugar Babe
For Rachel

She was already drifting the old Dame
her fishy smell counter to her sweet name,
still an air of elegance
her blue ceiling pilot house
and a clean white painted hull with black borders
no real frills but her name scripted
in bold round letters with S and B.
A brazen sea lassie
she wore down over the years
feeding out of the sea coffers four generations
stooped and hauled wealth through her nets and hawsers.
Past her prime, a drifter sinuous to the currents
pushed away from the Atchafalaya, 28.12.1 N x 93.04.315 W.
She let go her line as perhaps among the Eskimos
the elders walk far out of sight
to pass into the other world over the ice.
She tanked up the old lady
her body locked with ankylosis,
kingpost fissured, a splinter to the hull
taking water at every squall in a stench of diesel,
divested, stripped to the bones—she had already relinquished her lights
radios, board games, cards, and food & booze from the pantry.
Sugar Babe thinned out to her name,
unseaworthy as if what long buoyed her
the sea evened up with herself,
water in every compartment
soon meshing with the waves against her hull
till giving over board she dunked in by the stern in a spin and last crack,
snap of her transom giving away.
Her top briefly sticking out,
a fleur-de-lis drenched on a flag, Sugar Babe,
melted down to her name.

***

Cast Iron

We brought a cast iron
deep and grainy
with a lid like a Roman shield
closing over its dark moon face.
It asks for seasoning
the rubbing of oil and fire
dab of garlic and buffing with an oiled cloth
a ritual to the initiation of a growing patina
flame and metal meeting to open its pores.
Solid and indestructible as year after year
heat licked from the outside
building in its own toughening skin
swiped hot cleaned to a new darker copper sheen
piling up memories of stews, terrines, sweating onions,
crimson ebullient tomatoes, thick butternut caramelizing,
nips, Bourguignon, braises and court bouillons
a big anvil of appetite
something we would believe in through years of growing
and the times in-between loving and missing.

***

At the Moon Wok

“The mind is an impermanent place, isn’t it
but it looks to permanence.”  Thom Gun “Talbot Road 5”

Chef Lee takes the moon every evening in his wok
the black rim glistening and its center heating up fumes
yellow liquid haze with whiff of lemon grass
stars sizzle up the deep cast iron with a handful of rice
the luminescent handle hook of eyed Orion sees through the stove blue flame.
In the water colors against the wall high-arched bridges and bluish clouds
with thin figures of men and women in the same brushstrokes as the roads.
The silk prints have lost their gloss and the figures all malinger,
the brick seams align the frames as forming the thread of an untold story—
dust rust as old as the Quarter
and Louisiana has its own monsoon--
how ones passes from the Yangse to the Mississippi?
It is the land that breaks the sea and the many waves of its languages
rip surf, Sargasso and the storms and hurricanes
and the great lull of swamps spiked with bamboo reeds,
flat faces of giant water lilies pearling silver droplets over their leaves.
Soon the recess will cease behind the gates of St Louis Academy.
The noodles next I unravel ravenously from the chopsticks to my lips
and somewhere across the wall you pass-by and by—you that I once knew
given back to the anonymity of a street
as one chooses forgetfulness and makes a habit of it
till effortless it becomes meaningless to remember you.

Erik Vende Stouwe is curator of the Summer Creative Writing Series at NolaVie.