Corwin Ericson's broken bottles, Wendell, Massachusetts
The City of New Orleans is a train. Like all well-behaved American trains it zips by backyards, left-over warehouses and parking lots, drainage ditchbanks and assorted boarded-up buildings. You're sometimes frightened you might see a dead body half-hidden among the debris there. When it snows enough on some of these places, or there's a fog just thick enough to make seeing through it not so easy, these places are transformed into passing landscapes of veiled beauty.
What's more beautiful than veiled beauty? Throw a mantilla over anyone's head and right away what's inside every neuron and platelet, ganglia and synapse reconfigures into a more or less skull-shaped teeming density of beauty.
Protestant eucharist is a plain simile, a reminder of something, a little hand-written note safety-pinned to a child's sweater by a great aunt who's worried the child will be lost on the train and never make it back home: CHILD BELONGS TO MRS. EUPHRASIE BARROIS, NAOMI, LOUISIANA, SHE WILL BE GATHERED UP & MET AT THE STATION.
The city of New Orleans that is not a train presents to any passer-by a series of street names:
Calliope, Clio, Erato, Euterpe, Melpomone, Polymnia, Terpsichore, Thalia, Urania. The muses turn out to have stop signs on them and bus stops, front stoops, steep roofs and hundreds of little gardens. The muses keep the houses in pretty straight lines. They are numbered. Strangers navigate by their names. My grandmother's sister lived on one of them.
Aunt Pom. I wonder if her given name turns out to have been Pomegranate. She had, like so many of her neighbors, a white shell-lined (crushed up clam and oyster shells) front yard garden. Cacti, succulents, gardenias, bougainvillae, calla lilies, a couple of satsumas, a Louisiana Creole, lemon grass, basil, sweet olive, all of the things that should be in a garden.
With zero faithfulness to relative scale, inhabiting her garden were baby ducks, a piglet, a dozen frogs, two Siamese cats, a donkey pulling a cart in which the Blessed Virgin Mary stood, Jesus in a cradle under a thriving crown of thorns, a stairstep from nowhere ascending to a crescent moon, a tiny pool inhabited by giant carp, a fawn, two gnomes, a dozen pink-tongued chameleons stationed on bird of paradise stalks. Some of these were alive as alive can be, and some were of fabricated concrete, at least that's what we called the material in which these whimsical creatures came clothed.
I can't recall anyone ever asking my aunt what her garden meant.
At about this same time I was deeply involved in a closet. In its small, maybe 3 by 5 floor space, I was busy building an altar. Eventually my private altar mimicked all accoutrement accompanying the public, operative altars I visited with relatives. A twig here to be a cross, some little wax figurines for saints with various names: Saint Blessed of the Blue Nets, Saint Bill of the Fancy Shirt, Saint Marie of the Endless Hair, Saint Jerry of the Secrets, Saint Grace of the Terrible Eyes, Saint Claire of Kindness and Broken Spoons, Saint Green and Gold and Orange and Black, Saint Lynn of the little Brownies, Saint Broadcast of Midnight Anthems, Saint Scary, Saint Nail, Saint Pitcher, Saint Pot, Saint Sink, Saint Mule, Saint Snakes Stay Away, Saint Traintrack, Saint of the Furious River, Saint Rain, Saint Queen of Clubs, Saint Singing, Saint Dancing, Saint Sleep.
About this time it was as if I saw a poem for the first time. In fact I had seen lots of poems, I guess. I must have. But these were the poems that really first, as they say, arrested my attention. I stared into them. I watched them to see what they would do. As if I'd never seen one before. I don't think I read them if to read's meaning is restricted to a translation of letters, sonics and syntax, and such into ideas I might have turned in my mind. I was completely content just to look at them.