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The Poetic City: "Flaneur on Royal Street, New Orleans" by Cassie Pruyn

Editor's Note: NolaVie invites poets and poetry organizations to join us in celebrating the burgeoning and versatile New Orleans community of verse. In coordination with poet and organizer Sam Gordon, we will publish weekly poems, orally and written, by and about this city we love. Please contact Kelley Crawford ([email protected]) with suggestions.

CassieCassie Pruyn is a poet, a historian, and she is also NolaVie's Bayou St. John writer. She is currently working on a book about the bayou, and her first manuscript of poetry is currently searching for the perfect home. To find out more about Cassie and her work, you can visit her website.

 

"FLANEUR ON ROYAL STREET, NEW ORLEANS"

A hot Sunday in August.

Men sprinkle the ditches

with buckets full of sawdust,

 

shoving their brooms grittily

through the narrow, balconied streets.

The potted vines hang swaying in sleep.

 

The shutters, door-length, stay shut.

I want to leave to go visit her, but I don’t.

Occasionally when I call, she picks up.

 

It’s always been about distance

with the two of us.

Why am I now the one to resist?

 

This street cuts a narrow trench of houses,

lively with sparrows, bunching,

dispersing. I could get on a bus,

 

or a plane, or a train,

show up unannounced, and ask

to come in, as I’ve imagined

 

I might. What would I say?

I’m sorry, or

It was you who taught me how to stay away.

 

 

By the Hudson, years ago, I collected pamphlets

on the town’s history, the “Tivoli riots,”

squatting among the one-room library’s stacks,

 

or made sketches of sumac and sycamore,

beauty berry, box-bush––I can’t remember––

every now and then looking around for her

 

and pretending I wasn’t.

It was over by then. We were barely friends.

But in those days, she was the Hudson.

 

Back then, if I saw her walking

past my porch on Saturday mornings

in her green jacket, I’d call out, Good morning!

 

willing her to stop in.

Today I gaze up at the wire-lines,

pondering communication again.

 

This city’s only business is the constant reminding

of the murky Mississippi’s winding,

and the river’s revenge, and the river’s conspiring––

 

Enough about rivers! Remember the night she called

just before they took her liver out, when I cried

Let me come! But it wasn’t the time,

 

and they hooked her by the ribs like a stripped fish,

and excised the swollen, black-blotted flesh—

meanwhile I rallied friends, east to west,

 

and begged them to pray, or whatever else,

and instead obsessed over sending daffodils

the transplant ward wouldn’t accept.

 

Now the sky darkens to mottled mess.

From across the river, rain swarms in sheets.

I run to the car before it keels over—

 

She doesn’t want me there I tell myself,

slapping past rocketing gutter-spouts,

and it’s true, she probably doesn’t—

 

but if I were to touch her again,

could we collapse the map?

Would she taste the warm rain on my skin?

Kelley Crawford is a professor, writer, mentor, dancer, and constant questioner. If you would like to contact Kelley Crawford, you can email her at [email protected].