Thursday, October 29, 2009

Rue d'Âmes Perdues

A red light burns off Basin Street
2 blocks over, up two flights
over Mac’s Saloon, where I
sipped my bourbon late one night

where old Mac, bow tied and thin
rightly guessed me new in town;
and (as it was just he and I)
set off to lay his story down.

“Antebellum Alabama, son,
is where she was conceived,
an owner and a slave girl
on a howling Hallow’s eve

born onto a kitchen floor
her mamma in distress,
they wasn’t let to dig her grave
‘til someone cleaned the mess.

Her daddy wouldn’t sell her
and he couldn’t make her work,
so she growed up in the shadows
and she studied how to lurk

with the old folk and the cripples
that come over on the ships,
and she learned the scars from fetters
from the ones made by the whips

and she learned about the Voodoo
and the goddess of the waters,
how you got to have Queen Mothers
what to raise up priestess daughters.

She’d steal into the cotton fields
and found her back was sturdy
and her mind bore like a weevil
as she flowered full and purty.

Then on her thirteenth birthday
she saw fit to take her leave
so she slipped from that plantation
like a possum through the sheaves

she wandered down to Mobile
and then into Mississip
and she took to mixing venom
with the honey from her lip

she rode that mighty river
Baton Rouge to old Saint Paul,
spinning like a paddle-wheel,
a purser, shark and moll

and when the mood would strike her
she would disappear for weeks
traipsing through the woods and marshes
to live off the land and creeks

but when the Union took New Orleans
in the spring of ‘62
she stepped off the boats forever
and she called herself LaRoux.

Now they thought they’d seen it all
in this ol’ town of iron lace
but they never seen such hard eyes
set in such a silky face

and they never seen a lady
what they’d be afraid to tussle;
kept a razor in her corset
and a pistol in her bustle.

She opened up a brothel
couple blocks off Basin street
with an altar in the basement
and a lock from Jean Lafitte

the whiskey flowed like water
every night was a soiree;
Madam LaRoux, she soon became
the belle of Vieux Carré

but the rumors started spreading
there was evil at her door,
that her girls must be witches
for the gris-gris that they wore

and how they’d mix up potions
what to cast their spells and hexes,
for to drown unfaithful husbands
or grant wishes by three X’s.

Can’t say it seemed to matter;
she collected wealth and fame,
swellin’ like her reputation
deep and wide as Pontchartrain.

Then one night ol’ Scratch hisself
strode in, top hat & tails
to procure a little comfort,
take his mind off his travails

he bought the bottles off the shelf
and kept the ivories hoppin’ -
the boy knew how to make some friends
and kept them duckets droppin’

and when the house was good and high
he settled on a gal,
a copper skinned contessa,
a Creole femme fatale

but when he tried to settle
Miss LaRoux just shook her head,
said he’s free to shine a barstool
but he wouldn’t foul a bed;

said the girls were all her daughters
and she wouldn’t lose a one
to the dalliance and damnation
of perdition’s seventh son.

When his coaxing turned to quarrel
she just flat spurned his demands
as a ransom poured like pittance
from his hot and sallow hands

he seethed she’d best get out his way,
and glaring, eye to eye,
she squared herself, through gritted teeth,
scowled go ahead an’ try.

The story goes they fought all night
some say was two or three;
he couldn’t never take her
and she wouldn’t let him free

until he got so blind with rage
he let loose such a shriek
that it busted out her eardrum
as he vanished like a streak.

But the devil ain’t no quitter, son,
he can’t stand not to win;
he’d slither ‘round from time to time
and they’s start in again

and so it’s been, that day to this -
her ghost still walks the halls
of a dark deserted cathouse
holdin’ vigil, keen to brawl.

There’s a light comes on upstairs
when that ol’ boy’s about,
might hear a thump, or something break,
or someone cuss and shout

and that’s the devil and LaRoux
still scrappin’ for a soul
she still ain’t gonna sell him
and he still aims to control.”

I thanked him for the story
as I spun around to leave,
said I found it fine and fitting
for that howling Hallow’s eve

and I thought I heard him snicker
as I stumbled to the street;
heard a church bell toll for midnight
as the wind whipped at my feet

and I caught a little flicker
coming on, a crimson dim
in the window up above me
and I looked back on a whim

and I froze where I was standing
as the gale and laughter grew
when I saw the windows boarded
like the door I’d just walked through;

the sign for Mac’s Saloon was gone
and hanging on the wall
were three X’s dripping scarlet
in a high and hasty scrawl

and I didn’t hear the thunder
and I couldn’t feel the rain
as a desperate, hopeless terror
drug me somewhere south of sane;

Two blocks off of Basin Street
beneath a pale and haunted light
is where I lost my soul, when I
consoled the devil late one night.


Julie said...

I love LaRoux! I'm glad she gives them hell:) What a wonderful epic narrative. It plays like a movie. No...even better. It rolls like a novel. I love the voice and how you frame the story with another story. It's a perfect setting for this time of year, too.

I recently visited a plantation for the first time in my life. I had never even seen one, not even from a distance. It was a shocking experience to see the slave quarters. I swear, I heard voices in the woods.

Excellent storytelling, Joaquin. Now I'm going to be careful where I go have a drink this Halloween:)

Karen said...

It does roll like a novel, but I can hear it done as a ballad, too. One of those deep, deep Johnny Cash/Jimmy Dean voices. (Showing my age, here, but I can hear it: think "Big John" voice.)

I lost myself in this story, which is what a good narrative can do for a reader. From her messy birth on that floor to her brawling with Old Scratch tou our narrator's realization that he's been had, I was entranced.

These are your poems that I love most, Joaquin - the narratives that are filled with twists and turns and quirks and unexpectedly delightful rhyme.

You make my Thursdays!

Karen said...

Sorry about the errors - I get too excited and hit "publish" instead of "preview". I know better!

K.Lawson Gilbert said...

What a gem of a poem! Great traditional style with a wild plot that is soooo attention grabbing! Compelling technique - a narrative within a narrative. The attention to detail is just mind-blowing and makes the story so real to me.

You come up with thrilling scenarios filled with all kinds of "goings on"! I truly love this storyline.

I do love this stanza:

and I didn’t hear the thunder
and I couldn’t feel the rain
as a desperate, hopeless terror
drug me somewhere south of sane;

Just a great way of saying "I'm losing my mind with fear." It is scary.

Thanks for another remarkable tale. Your talent is extraordinary. ^O^

Catvibe said...

Oh my GOD Joaquin! Every time I read one of your poems, I feel like it's one of the best I've ever read. I think that's because of your mastery at storytelling through poetry. In this one, not only did you tell the story, but you got the vernacular in there and that just brought the whole thing to life. I could see LaRoux, and the brothel, the river, the woods, the voodoo. You continue to amaze me Joaquin. This was an incredible romp!

Blue Bunny said...

MASTERPIECE! nothing short of.

South of sane, a great line. And the rhymes of hexes and X's I like a lot too.

But the below is my favorite fav...

kept a razor in her corset
and a pistol in her bustle.

But I am sorry the teller died too, wasn't expecting that at all.

Aniket said...

Okay, seriously now. Where do you live? Are you published yet or not? If not, its a sin against all those who are not fortunate enough to have found your blog yet.

Now, I know I play nice at times while commenting. But am deadly serious over this. Its quite hard to part me from my money, but I for one will gladly pay for reading your poems.

Jannie Funster said...

off-topic,sorry -- delete if you must, sorry 'bout those broken "hair and hats," links on my post today -- i have fixed them!

Nevine said...

What a feast that was, Joaquin! Brothels, New Orleans, tales, voodoo, conspiring with the devil, evil - a delicious mix of stuff I love to read about so I can just experience it vicariously. And LaRoux? What an amazing gal! Your last four stanzas were out of this world. I felt like every syllable carried the sound of a gunshot. Bam bam bam! I have to say this is my favorite piece so far, and I know I haven't been around your blog for that long, but I've been around long enough to have a favorite. Thank you for this outstanding offering. And I'm so terribly sorry I didn't get to it before Halloween!!!


joaquin carvel said...

julie - me too! the more i wrote the more i rooted for her - weird for me, but i felt kind of protective of her by the end (when it finally came). it almost is a novel - i remembered "goblin market" and "the song of hiawatha" and figured it wasn't a long poem, it was a short epic.

i've never been to a plantation - i bet it was incredible. and i bet there are voices in the woods. thank you so much - and i hope you only darkened familiar doors last saturday!

karen - wow - now i want to hear tennessee ernie ford sing it. think he's dead, though. anyway, thank you - it was a roll of the dice not to hack it down, but it felt right and i hoped it was interesting enough to not get tired - if you got lost in it that's a good sign! (and no need to apologize - i do that alllllll the time!)

k. - thank you! i was somewhere in the middle of it, kind of fumbling around, when i read "the ghosts of gettysburg" - i think i started to find the end of this poem swirling in the middle of that one. so i'm glad you liked it - you helped inspire it!

cat - wow again - that's an astounding thing to say. thank you - i'm glad it was as fun to read as it was to write.

blue bunny - glad you caught a break from managing all that funsterment - thank you! although i don't think he died - i think he just knows where he's going when he does. which (to me) is scarier and more awful.

aniket - i can't beleive you said that. your comment + my new little thing in sidebar + this week's post = well, call it what you will. thank you, truly, for that unequivocal vote of confidence.

nevine - thank you - sometimes they just kind of take off like that! glad you enjoyed the ride. it's never too soon to have a favorite, right?