New Orleans Memoir
Slaves, whores, convicts, the British sent
to populate what was then a swamp.
My Scottish immigrant family grew rich
on liquor sales, bought the 14-room double camelback
house where I grew up. The Robert E. Lee Circle
around the corner–-magnificent, politics
tainted, an icon, dismantled. A kid, I knew little then.
Walking through the “colored” section on my way to school,
I see the dark women, eluding ‘the evil eye,’ scrubbing
their front steps till the wood turns white. Marie Laveau
dances voudou on the shores of Lake Pontchartrain.
Whitey, I wake in “black” bars,
safely left to sleep until it dawns on me
I’m late for school.
Bring Your Own Chair
It was hard, the 1930s, failing on a roll of dice.
And he borrowed without asking to
her mother’s new radio, lost on a pony. “Send him back!”
her mother commanded. Summer days went shiver.
Rubbing holes in their clothes,
in alleyways, stray bedrooms. Her a poet,
third generation Scots. Him, Latin, illegal,
a gambler’s charm. Both late teens. I imagine their desire.
their arms reaching…hugging,
each sitting half on a single borrowed chair—no fixed seats
back than at the talking pictures.
I feel their rush toward the exit,
spurred by the opened doors, their quick steps
past posters, the ticket-taker booth, their breath in their hands.
Images made flesh.
A Walk Down Calliope Street
For Marmee (1898?-1965)
Some say Calliōpe, like hope.
Others, Ca-li-o-pē. An eye-sore now,
a trash heap under a twin cantilever bridge.
I blink against the dust and watch
what now connects Algerines to New Orleans.
Gone the persimmon tree, the double camelback house.
The place, the people – I couldn’t wait to escape.
the name, her story come and gone. Once in mythology
I read she gathered stars for her love-god, Ares.
When he possessed all her stars, he locked her up
in a golden cage, used her stars for war.
When freed from seizure, she replenished the heavens,
conceived the stars to shine, if not to touch.
Poems seldom resolve the issues they pose.
I clearly can’t go home again. The block’s not even there.
Just the smell of pee, invisibles, and me
back where I started, itching to be off.
The Source of Movable Reality
On a crowded St. Charles Streetcar, a colored woman
squeezed next to where my grandmother and I sat
in front of a sign that read, “No colored in front of this sign.”
My grandmother glanced at me. “Don’t you
see that lady standing there.” I stood. Hesitant, tired
of oppressive rules and heavy groceries, she sat down.
The ticket collector spoke to her, “Don’t you see
that sign in back of you?” She readied herself to stand,
when my grandmother reached back, lifted the sign,
placed it in front of her. I watched in her grasp
a movable reality take place, hearing her ask,
“Now, are you going to move me young man?!”
William Rivera is the author of four collections of poems: Café Select
(Poet’s Choice Publisher, 2016); Noise (Broadkill River Press, December
2015): The Living Clock (Finishing Line Press, 2013); and Buried in
the Mind’s Backyard (Brickhouse Books, Inc. 2011). Born in New
Orleans, he has traveled and published widely. Currently retired, he
taught agricultural extension and development at the University of
Maryland from 1981-2009.
Rivera’s poems have been published in various poetry magazines:
Innisfree, Broadkill River Review, Raven’s Perch, The Broome Review,
California Quarterly, Gargoyle, Recursive Angel, The Curator Magazine,
Third Wednesday, Ghazal. Lit Undressed, Blazevox, 2River Review, Loch
Raven, and others.