“Notes for Living in NOLA” by Susan B.A. Somers-Willett

Susan B.A. Somers-Willett


Learn to hate the tourists
who booze up, who cruise the one-ways
the wrong way and ask
for the Café du Monde the Jax
the Cat’s Meow the Preservation Hall

on Bourbon Street they fall for
I bet you a dollar I can tell
where you got those shoes.

Sleep till noon, your belly
deep and soft; deal cards
and convince others you
once shot the moon.

Stay above water.
Throw parties when there is weather.
Vacation during Mardi Gras
or do Mardi Gras every other day.

Practice the aesthetics
of getting out of bed,
chasing the cat, the beauty
in wavy views of traffic.
Note the poetics of a
shirt stuck to your back.

Baby, you in jazzland
but don’t show the blue
notes, the thin ropes
of hate and self-hate
that hold the place together
that cable the soft banks
that sing red cypress, black wire—

murder walks slowly,
demands you hand over
your wallet and things;
don’t make no fuss and perhaps
he might pass or ax you
out for a beer.

Cultivate a dull eye
like the black boys on Bourbon
who slide and clack! for change,
who tap! tap! parabolas, who tack
bottlecaps on their Nikes to jump back
to where someone said
they from.

Acclimate to the smell
of exhaust and the canal.
Pick up the perpetual
gifts of beads and cups that wash
onto your lawn year-long.
Eat the food you are most afraid of.
Don’t drink the water.

Learn to hate the tourists
who rip Mammy’s face off the sweet
sweet pralines that mark
their journeys South,
who buy posters of the jazz man
whose pearly teeth match
the whites of his Mac-the-Knife eyes
(but never go into the park
named after this man:
it is dangerous: perhaps
you will die by that knife).

Find people to love
who tell you suspicious histories.
Wash dishes and know there is no end
to roaches. Celebrate obscure holidays
and master riding a bicycle
with a buzz.

And this:
daily rain at four, torn green fans
of saw palmetto rapping at the screen,
steam moving from your shoes,
the slip of a cool bottle in hand—
you grip it
just before losing it.

Wake up early for Zulu.
Leave before Rex. Regret
has moved to some other country
so dress, make bets, burn, do nothing.

Get on a bus named Cemeteries.
These cemeteries are beautiful things.

from Rattle #25, Summer 2006


Susan B.A. Somers-Willett: “It is the music of language—the odd and perfect run of phrase, the rhythm of it ringing in your head for days—that compels me to write. I believe that how you speak the poem is just as important as what you say in it. Which means, of course, that Aretha Franklin is my favorite poet.” (website)

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