Edgar Allen Poe somber poem written in black ink, still wet – not yet dried – scribed on parchment paper, papyrus. The itching scratching of that raven feather against the grainy table, as candle wax drips down slowly, spilling from the pool accumulated near the circumference of the wick. It is a solitary light and it is all I need to continue setting this scene. The air is musty and still, filled with humidity and the heat of a thousand summer days, even in fall on the prelude to winter it doesn’t get quite as cold as quickly. There is a caw from outside this darkened window. As if the raven knows of these hate crimes and is asking for its feather back; Or perhaps the feather of a fallen brother or sister. Little does this bird know that this feather has been already adulterated by humans. It is a writing tool now, disconnected. This constant cycle of man using nature to his benefit, which I suppose makes sense but is still tragic in a way. The candle reflects weakly in the glasspane of the open window. A clock strikes midnight and bellows out its tune, its information, its mechanical certainty. The bird caws and again, raising its wings and taking off to its nest to return in the morning and haunt this space. A gentle breeze works its way in through the opening, but it brings no comfort.
Peonies are gorgeous flowers. I can see them now, painted Still Life, from some unknown French artist’s canvas. They are full of bright pastel Easter colors: Pink, Light Purple, Light Blue, Green, and Yellow; Perhaps Teal and Turquoise and a dash of Red somewhere. The brush strokes follow a pattern. In this scene, painted so expertly, rendered so expertly, I the viewer, from my POV, there is a an open window across and to my right. The curtain, thin and breezy, flutters lightly with the wind. This white, sheen sheet like a benevolent ghost in greeting. Dividing us is a large wooden dinner table. It is rectangular and closer to me. It is wooden and polished. You can tell the table has known life and spills and drama, and hands slamming on top of it. The table has a lot to say, if you look at the grains closely enough. If you put your hands on top of it and have the energy catapult you back to some family argument. But it has remained stoic and steady and useful; So it stays. On the corner of this table, closer to myself, is a red vase of flowers. These peonies, which are so much marvelous of nature that they hardly look real when in fact they are. Some triumph that makes you want to believe in God, even if you don’t. What engineer, what mathematician, has dipped his palm into to Holy Water Genius and crafted this? I know I couldn’t have. And these flowers are fresh cut, and lovely to behold. The numerous petals smugly smiling, this family, knowing no drama, gladly sits in this vase on the kitchen table, knowing the peace offering it is, and balances it out, this pervasive sense of drama and leftover rage from the night before. Forgiveness flowers. White dove stand-in. A love letter without words. Apologies. Reconciliation incoming. Before the whole cycle starts again. This will not be the last time, and this scene is not the first. We see the TV off and to the left, and it will stay that way. There are so many other ways to numb the senses that you don’t necessarily need a remote to do it.
Laying down prostrate hearing alarm sirens sound, I yank myself up at a right-angle, 90-degree fulcrum at the sound. Wrenching my eyes awake going against all slumberous instinct knowing that I must rise. In a sweeping motion, blankets are off and I am putting on clothes and boots. Adrenaline heightens all my senses as each hair standing up on my arms and back of my neck are like little submarine scopes, periscopes, peeking up and swirling around, gathering intel and information on such a minute level, I cannot analyze it further. This action of getting up, of waking up, in the dead of winter, when the world is still dark and cold in morning as it is in moonlight, I’d much rather stay in bed. But there is something in this, some sick thrill in getting up before the sun, getting up before the world, my neighbors, and feeling this comforting blanket of solitude as you make your way through the motions. Advantageous routine. “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou. One of America’s defining poems. One of America’s most defining authors and citizens and minds. I tuned in too late to the broadcast, but there are so much many papers and memories I can go through, more than can fit in a shoebox. Tying the tie, tying one on. Feel like I’m chasing some elusive dream in this pursuit of structure and order.
Three years ago I went to New Orleans for a friend’s bachelorette celebration. It was my first and only time there, though I desperately want to go back and do more besides endless drinking. It was on this trip I fell in love with gumbo. I could have lived off it. Rice and broth and vegetables and southern goodness, I guess. It spoke to me in spice and flavor. Such supreme comfort food as I felt it put my soul back together, a soul I did not even know was broken in the first place. That’s the power of good cooking. That’s the power of food made with love and wholesome ingredients. I have not had any since, and it is killing me. When I came home from that trip, I put it on a list of things to do (to making my own gumbo), but never got around to it. It still sits on that list and I have forgotten it until now. It’s now summer, and too hot for gumbo, but perhaps as the weather bigs to turn to cooler fall, I will assemble my shopping list and go forth to make this triumph of a dish, and hopefully, by following a good recipe, I will do it some justice.
I miss the lightheartedness of the French Quarter. And the breeze by the river. And the palms on Canal. I miss the jazz in the streets and the murals and statues celebrating great musicians; These should never be taken down. I miss Church St. and District Donuts. I wanted to get to know this city so much more. But you can only do so much in 4 days. I recall the rainy day we left, NOLA on the outskirts of Hurricane Harvey, and our slightly delayed flight coming home. God, how I love a good storm, even when it puts me out somewhat. I want to go back to Cafe du Monde and get a nice big iced coffee and eat beignets with someone I love and care about. No matter the humidity or the heat. There are so many beautiful, wonderful things to do in the daytime. To me, it makes the night pale in comparison. And perhaps, that’s just who I am.
I could’ve lived off that gumbo. Buffets and restaurants. My favorite choice, my go-to. Chicken and andouille sausage. Tipping the jazz band to play “Dream A Little Dream”.
Marvin Gaye sounds on the tinny diner radio. It is chrome and used to gleam before being gradually baptized in diner grease. Sitting and sounding a little muddy. The crackling and hissing of frying bacon on a flat-top grill, accompanied with “Order Up!”s and the dinging of bells. There is a din of folks laughing and talking and enjoying their meals. Another tinkling bell at the open and close of the front door. This is Sunday Breakfast. This is after church. Where you will find brothers and sisters breaking bread, cleared eyed and amiable, forgetting weekday fighting and pettiness. No more pulling pigtails and trying to trip one another down the hallway. Today is a day of forgiveness and sorrys. At the trunk of your big oak tree there is a man sitting cross-legged making absolute eye-contact. There is a tire-swing that has been jostled by the window. Looking up you recall the grand treehouse that used to sit in your backyard, where so many games would be played, where so many moments of welcomed solitary isolation were sought. These time capsule memories now seem like ever-fading dust.