Poem: Surviving Mardi Gras

It’s almost Lent in the western calendar, which means that Mardi Gras is less than two weeks away and the first installment of Ordinary Time will come to a close.

It seemed an appropriate time to post Lane Chasek’s “Surviving Mardi Gras” in anticipation of this transformative season, but with a strong grounding in ordinary time.

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Surviving Mardi Gras

1

We’ll last another year,
same as always.

     All I wanted, from any part
     of these bayous and chateaus,
     were the words, This
     is how love ends.
     Only craving or caring when the time is free enough,
     the Tuesday fat enough, the celebration wild and humid enough.

I see you, Mardi Gras. That’s what you’re supposed to say
at the masquerade when you know who’s behind which mask. Never
name any names, though. Limit your accusations, your actions,
your suspicions, to Mardi Gras.

     Two old men seated at chess—one man’s black,
     the other white. Make of it what you will. This city’s
     generous with allegories, dark coffee, and daiquiris.

2

Everything’s open tonight. The earth, I hear,
can gape itself wide and swallow America down a sinkhole
but I trust the world enough to not
do itself in like that. You’re a fool to think that, my last friend in the world says.
A geologist from Wisconsin, with us for tonight only,
pinches my ear and whispers, God played dice once
and once only. I don’t think he’ll change his rules
just because you’re turning twenty-five. I think you’re
safe. My last friend in the world sneers, says, And what about
me? I’m twenty-seven. Any rules for that?

     Any age, the geologist assures us. Any age,
     you should be safe here.

3

We awake in a stranger’s hotel room the following afternoon.
A new stranger, not our geologist, greets us.
You two sleep a lot. My last friend in the world says we just stayed up late.
It’s two in the afternoon. My last friend in the world says it’s Mardis Gras,
and to give us a break.

     Whatever, just don’t go outside. Some kid got shot last night.
     You definitely don’t want to get caught up in that shit.
     You’re not from here, right? Don’t answer that, I already know.

So what are we supposed to do? I don’t care, the stranger says,
just try to stay out of trouble. It’s a damn jungle out there
this time of year.

4

Another pair of old men play chess
in the same quarter from yesterday, different men
this time—both black. The paths here are paved
in grids so everything, everybody today is really a Cartesian plane
stretched taut in jubilation—and everything occupies its proper place.

     My last friend in the world and I keep getting asked
     if we’re into sharing and it takes me a long time before
     I realize New Orleans must think we’re a couple—
     sad, since I’d love to share what isn’t mine,
     and I hate to disappoint anybody, even perfect strangers
     in a strange city.

And a kid died here last night. Or maybe not a kid,
just someone young, my age maybe. Nobody
seems to know or notice or remember. Maybe
it didn’t happen. Maybe he played trombone in high school,
maybe he had or has a girlfriend or boyfriend or mother who’s
waiting for him to come back home. Maybe he has pet fish
who’ll die without him there to feed them. So much lost
and unknown because of one departed soul.

     So much here I haven’t thought to uncover—
     tiles everywhere for those who love the grid-like certainty
     of a land haunted by slavery, French ghosts, Catholic guilt,
     conversion therapy nightmares, and all-night polka soirees.
     I see you, Mardi Gras.

5

Another wilted tulip
to encapsulate New Orleans,
Louisiana, and these swamps that call themselves
home to some. Chicory and woodsmoke
cling to our clothes as we watch
our week’s escapades dwindle to nothing below us.
The flight home is always the best part.

     My last friend in the world says it wasn’t what he expected,
     but we’re all entitled to our fragments of history and opinion,
     our glimpses of centuries-old tyranny. Some kid died last night
     but a lot of people die down there, he reassures me.
     True, but I wish it weren’t. Some kid died last night.
     A lot of people die down there and will get killed next year. I’ll survive another year,
     I hope, but some aren’t so lucky. Most never live my peace.

~

Lane Chasek’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Broke Bohemian, The Daily
DrunkHole in the Head Review, Plainsongs, Taco Bell QuarterlyWhat Rough Beast, and others. Their first nonfiction book, Hugo Ball and the Fate of the Universe, was recently published by Jokes Review Press.  

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