Old Easy Money slurps his snowball
while Crescent City slips behind the No
Smoking sign. He’s got the mirrored lens
going on—tips a cigarette to his lips,
the curve in his Ray-Bans shining with
reflection, Canal to Esplanade, hard to port.
Head-on is Algiers, pungent with
the west bank—gardenia,
oleander, myrtle & rose.
It’s a soupy sky, man, the Crescent
mildewed like a hymnal, all hopped
with tattoos of rain. Blind
Tony shines in the middle
of Delaronde, jaunty in black
shoes & pin striped suit.
He taps his cane into Algiers—bright
oiled porches, shuttered windows—
front doors pressed
shut with a thumb, sealed like jars.
Every thirty minutes the ferry runs.
Muddy on the move, churning yellow
in diesel fumes. Gulls dive, bitching
at the heat; they steal crepes—sweetened
with jam. A string of green bottles
nods in the ferry’s wake, trotline swell,
fish hooks hanging for cat—stink bait,
gut rolled into balls. River wind
funnels between decks—across
the fender-slick Porsche, the fruit truck,
Du Monde’s beignets.
The tupelo is hollow, growling
with bees—comb honey. It’s all
food of some sort, mudbugs, nutria,
squab on a spit. Like the blues
the gulf rises to the levy, a minor chord
with a repetitive hook, a dollar in a cup,
a drink in a fist. A blind man
swims in flood, dog paddling circles,
pushing off, kicking free, avoiding
sawyers, the trash drift. Maybe
he learned this from a parent
who in lifting him up by the arms
tossed him into Pontchartrain
to swim baby, watched him bob, a little
tug on the homegrown hemp.
Al Ortolani’s poetry and reviews have appeared in journals such as Prairie Schooner, New Letters, Word Riot, and the New York Quarterly. He has four books of poetry: The Last Hippie of Camp 50 and Finding the Edge, published by Woodley Press at Washburn University; Wren’s House, published by Coal City Press in Lawrence, Kansas; and Cooking Chili on the Day of the Dead from Aldrich Press in Torrance, California. His fifth book, Waving Mustard in Surrender, will be released by New York Quarterly Books later in 2014. He is on the Board of Directors of the Kansas City Writers Place and is an editor with The Little Balkans Review.