Monday, December 5, 2011

The Detritus of Dreams

The detritus of dreams pools around ankles
leaves crackling, twigs snapping
a late-night melody of wasted youth transposed into
a symphony of a wasted adulthood

A roller-coaster speeds wildly along its track
its riders screaming in exhilaration
except for one lacking lap bar or safety belt
clinging to the grime-coated seat

A girl misses her father and imagines him back to visit
in the middle of a crowded street at Mardi Gras
an unlikely place to find him even if he were still alive
he hated crowds

A solitary traveler walks at dusk down an isolated road
its surface pockmarked with the faces of past lovers
she tries to tread lightly but in the end
painful impressions are all that remain behind

There is always movement but never progress
always flight but never escape
a train enters a tunnel but never emerges from the other side
a car plunges headfirst into an icy river

And I cannot breathe

© 2011 Melissa Lewis

Monday, August 29, 2011

One Year (8/29/06)

Posting an old piece, as today is K + 6...the Katrinaversary.

One Year (8/29/06)

10:25 a.m.

365 days ago right now I am
having a love/hate relationship
with the television
knees to chest on carpet
wrinkled pajamas
covered in layers of fur
from numerous refugee felines

I am still
optimistic because
the winds have changed
veered slightly to the east
slowed down
and passed through
with a roar
but without claws and teeth
not as hungry as she looked

The air is hot and damp
in Mississippi
but my eyes are still dry
I am not yet changed completely
not yet witness to the winds
that would tear the shutters
off the house
across the street
while I watched

Much later I would be
in the dark
in more ways than one
and when the shock rolled in
its waves would carry me north
instead of south
uprooted like the
fallen along the empty street

Copyright © 2006 Melissa Lewis

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


I seem to be taking a lot of flack from friends since yesterday’s quake rocked the East Coast. Here I am visiting friends and family in Northeastern Pennsylvania and enjoying NOT being in the heat in NOLA for a change, and suddenly there’s an earthquake.

Personally, I didn’t feel a thing, although friends of mine did. It’s unlikely I would have noticed anything, as I was wandering around the Harford Fair with a high school pal of mine, and any rumbling of the earth that we might have felt was mostly likely camouflaged by the tractor pulls going on behind us.

Now, with Irene skirting up the East Coast, the berating continues. My reputation as the Harbinger of Doom is not intentional, though it’s not entirely unwarranted either. In 1972, the year after I was born, the Northeast got creamed by Hurricane Agnes. In the late 90s, after moving with a friend of mine into a small town in Northeastern PA, an F3 tornado tore through the area, leaving a path of destruction a half-mile wide. In May of 2001, I moved to New York City and several months later was watching one of the towers fall from the corner window of my midtown office building. In June of 2005 I moved to the Big Easy, and…well...we all know how that story ended.

I can see where these coincidences are perhaps a little…eerie. But I’ve never really destroyed anyplace I’ve simply been VISITING rather than living. So for now, at least, can you people please stop trying to run me out of town? I’m leaving next week anyway, so you can all stop offering to come over and pack my bags for me. 

Monday, August 15, 2011

I sweat, therefore I am.

And that is pretty much what summer in New Orleans feels like. I feel like I’ve done nothing blog-worthy in months. And really I haven’t. Okay, so there was Mardi Gras, and St. Patrick’s Day, and friends visiting, and my 40th birthday celebrated in my favorite bar. Maybe it’s not that I haven’t done anything blog-worthy, but that really, at heart, I’m just a lazy piece of shit.

It does feel like the last few months have been spent doing nothing but sweating. Working from home is nice, but I miss my central air in my old apartment. When I’m not working, I’m either twiddling my thumbs waiting for my clients to pay me, or I’m out somewhere causing a disturbing amount of damage to my liver.

Most of the time I feel living in New Orleans is like being on a permanent vacation from which I have to take a break every now and then to do some work. But right now I need a break. Our heat indexes started topping 100 as early as June, and this month has included at least a week of excessive heat warnings and heat indexes ranging from 110 to 115. This week is slightly more bearable, as it feels like it’s only about 100 during the day.

I’ve already postponed one trip home this summer because of deadlines and late payments. I plan on taking that trip this week, up to cooler climes in northeastern Pennsylvania, to family and friends and mornings on my mother’s porch drinking coffee.

Of course, I’m making this trip right about when hurricane season is starting to pick up, so there will be no unplugging from my constant surveillance of the dozen or so weather Web sites I keep vigil over every year from June 1 to November 30.

But for now, I have nothing to complain about. I’m just looking forward to my trip home. In two weeks, I’ll really be looking forward to my trip back to NOLA. For now, I just really needed to remind myself what it feels like to put words to page. Because, in the end, words are really all I have.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Poem for Shamarr Allen

Another oldie getting added to the blog:

For Shamarr Allen at DBA June 7, 2007

I have no defense against
a trumpet that rages
from tender to tempest
in the blink of an eye

And I can't tell 
if those brass bends
are filled with heaven
or a hurricane

What kind of grace
does it take to blow 
notes like that
into a soul

Notes that breathe
a wicked fire
that smells like
desire and satisfaction

That tempt and forgive
and tease and lay bare all
the naked beauty
of a single note

in the air
it's more than just a show
it's more than just a show 

Copyright © 2007 Melissa Lewis

Poem for Paul Sanchez

I don't know how this didn't wind up in my blog before, but here it is. I suspect there's an updated version floating around here somewhere, but I can't find it at the moment.

For Paul Sanchez at DBA June 7, 2007

Rolling along
with the good times
this songwriter's shine
has enslaved me

might be the only
thing that can save me
from the parched dryness
of my wordless places

This storyteller's stage
is an oasis where even a poet
can feast on something
besides her own lonely phrases

and the room is
all but empty
and the stage is
all but bare

and there is desperation
in my inspiration
and it comes with
a melancholy aftertaste

But this is the only place
for poets tonight
beneath the lights
or at the bar

and here I am
and there you are

Copyright © 2007 Melissa Lewis

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Mardi Gras Roundup, Part 1

Last Tuesday, everywhere else it was just a Tuesday. But here, in the Big Easy, it was the fattest of Tuesdays…Mardi Gras—that special time of year when my body seems to acquire more liquor, beads, and bruises than any other. In truth, I still adore Mardi Gras, though I’ve been told that I will eventually tire of it. I find that hard to believe, but you never know.

I’ve previously blogged in detail about my first Mardi Gras, so I’ll just sum up the highlights this time.

Carnival season begins officially on January 6, but the real parade season starts a few weeks before Mardi Gras, kicked off by Krewe du Vieux, the witty, irreverent, and often dirty parade that rolls through the Marigny and the French Quarter. KdV rolled on February 19 this year, rather later than usual because of the late Mardi Gras. I’m always thrilled to have the wonderful friends I have here in New Orleans, and I’m even more thrilled when it just so happens that they live along the parade route, as my friend Pat does along the KdV route. Pat has an adorable apartment and makes awesome food (I found out what heaven tastes like…candied bacon) and graciously opens her home to friends and extended friends for a great time. And the parade passes right in front of her apartment. What could be better?

(As an interesting aside, someone asked me how they determine when Mardi Gras falls each year. I knew it was tied to Easter and Ash Wednesday, but I’ve never really looked into why the date of Easter changes yearly until a friend asked me to put my Google Ninja skills to work and find out. To sum up, what I found is that Easter is based on lunar cycles and falls on the first Sunday AFTER the first full moon AFTER the first day of spring. Got that? Yeah, it took me a while too.)

Following KdV, I had almost a week’s rest to get ready to jump right into the Uptown parade season, which started on Friday, February 25 with the Krewe of Oshun. Saturday followed with the krewes of Pontchartrain, Sparta, and Pygmalion, and Sunday featured Carrollton and King Arthur.

By Monday I was ready for a break and trying to make a deadline for an important client. Something had to be sacrificed, and this year it was the Krewe of Druids on Wednesday, which happened to roll on my deadline night. Sorry, Druids. I’ll get you next year.

Deadline met, by Thursday I was exhausted and excited for the krewes of Babylon, Chaos, and (most importantly) one of my all-time favorites, Muses. My dear friend Celeste rides in Muses, and for the past three years has taken care to throw Anne-Marie and me some stellar schwag. This year, I was really hoping for a decorated Muses shoe, the throw for which they are most famous. (I note in an early blog how I was almost sacrificed to the coconut gods for a Zulu coconut during my first Mardi Gras…this seems to be a theme for me.)

As Celeste’s float approached, we crossed the street and waited for her with our sign (made by Anne-Marie) and a bead bag to catch anything she might toss. The crowd surged. The shoe came down, and apparently it wasn’t the only thing that went down, as the last thing Celeste saw from the float’s upper level was a policeman pulling me out from under the float by my pants. Thanks to Smirnoff vodka, I have no recollection of this brush with death. I know only that in the end I wound up with a huge bruise on my knee…and a shoe. Celeste immediately sent me a text to see if I was all right, thinking that she had killed me. I may have been too inebriated to respond.

I offered to share joint custody with Anne-Marie, but she declined, saying that it obviously meant more to me than to her.

Later that evening, on the walk home to my house, I took another tumble, again right in front of a police officer. This one I remember, and I recall him picking me up off the sidewalk and me saying: “It’s all right. I do this all the time. I’m Polish.”

I was bruised and battered and drunk, but the proud owner of a glittery Muses shoe. Totally worth it.

  More to come. Stay tuned.

Monday, February 21, 2011

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

That’s right…not Christmas, not Easter, but Carnival time! That special time of year when the streets are crowded with gawking tourists, decent parking is impossible to find, and Bourbon Street drunks bare their wares more frequently than any other time of year.

All this aside, it’s still the most wonderful time to live in New Orleans. Costumes are being constructed, businesses are thriving, and residents seem (mostly) happy.

Because Mardi Gras falls so late this year, the weather is also warmer than usual, ensuring that more and more people will be willing to stand outside for hours to watch the parades pass by and collect assorted loot (beads, cups, stuffed animals, etc.).

This year, I’m determined to put together a costume for Mardi Gras itself. Until last year, I stayed in my Uptown neighborhood until all the parades of the day (Zulu, Rex, and the truck parades) rolled on by, then took my loot and relaxed at home with a drink or 12. (Catching beads all day, and occasionally getting hit in the face with them, can be exhausting.) Last year, after an especially long stall in the middle of Rex, I decided to go home, throw something together, and head to the Quarter. I went home and whipped together a skirt made of beads and threw on some various Mardi Gras accessories, most of which had been caught from other parades—headband, purple feather boa, MG-themed sunglasses—and headed downtown with my roommate.

The French Quarter on Mardi Gras is an absolute madhouse, not to mention a visual cornucopia of sights and sounds, colors and costume. It’s chaos and cacophony and brilliant, brilliant fun. The costumes alone are worth braving the crowds and making the trip.

Last year, for Halloween, I put my not-so-crafty self to work making a costume. I should emphasize here how not-domestic I am. I cannot sew. I barely cook. I have never endeavored to get all crafty and have never in my life owned a glue gun until now. My conversation with my mother (who happens to be incredibly crafty) went like this:

Mom: Watch out…glue guns are very hot.

Me: Duh. I think I’m smart enough to use a glue gun.

Five minutes later, post-phone conversation:

Me: YEEEOOOOWWWW that’s hot!!! Oops, I think I just glued my finger to the table.

In the end, the costume (a voodoo doll) came out acceptable enough. So this year I’ve decided to put my craft non-skills to work again in order to make a costume for Mardi Gras. This calls for a trip to costume shops, the Salvation Army, and Michael’s craft store. The only thing standing in my way now is this little thing called “working for a living.”

Working from home is both a blessing and a pain. I’d love to get started on my costume now, leaving myself lots of time to screw it up and have to start all over. But I don’t think my clients would appreciate blowing off my looming deadline because of the importance of Mardi Gras. They don’t live here. They just don’t understand.

Fortunately, my current deadline falls a week before Mardi Gras, leaving me that much time to get my imagination rolling and try to come up with something. I have ideas floating around in my head but lack the artistic vision to bring them to reality. I’m a word girl, not an artist. But I’ll do the best I can.

Whatever the result matters not. It’s all part of the experience. It’s the love of Mardi Gras, of parades, of friends, and of New Orleans. In the end, it’s all about the joy and fun of sharing the day with others.

Laissez les bon temps rouler!