New Orleans

The three of us, Gehr, Kuckuk, me, had walked
Into the early spring, mud everywhere,
The air still chilled by snow banks piled beneath the trees
And filled our lungs with early morning air.
He'd not felt well the night before and that had caused
The time outside. He'd said he had to clear
His head and get his heart to pumping life
Into his veins if morning was to mean
A thing to him. He wasn't young, he'd told us. He was old.
And so we'd walked the two great danes, dark
And eager as they sniffed the early sap
Inside still dormant maple trees.

We'd felt
His spirit on the walk, half Irish fey, half devilment,
So filled with joy he looked translucent in the sun.
And when we'd climbed back up the muddy hill,
Pulled off our boots, and went inside again,
We didn't go into the living room, but stopped
And parked ourselves around the kitchen table, cold
And filled up with the energy the walk
Had pumped into our blood.

And then he did
Just what he'd promised Ruth he'd never do.
He made a pot of coffee, poured a healthy swag
Of Irish whiskey in the pot, and served it up,
A breakfast fit for kings and fools, he said.
The stuff that made a man a lusty man.

Then, steaming with a mood too deep to see,
He started telling us about a time
When he was young, just starting out, and nuts
With all the genius he was doomed to gush
Into the world. He'd been commissioned by the feds
To go to New Orleans and do a mural on a wall,br> Near Bourbon Street. Another man, he'd lost the name,
As big as any horse, from New Orleans, had been
Assigned to help him out. The man had sung,
Not talked, he said. He made the heat a symphony
That rose off pavement and the wall in waves
Of sound that filled the universe.

His eyes shined with the memory, and then, his voice
As sibilant and soft as water dripping from the trunks
Of maple trees into spring banks of snow,
He told the tale.

"About a week off of the bus,
He said, "we'd finished painting trees as dark
With green as emeralds. We'd got down from the wall
To see how what we'd done was looking when
My pal pulled out a jug of absinthe, took a swig,
And handed it to me. The feel it had inside
My throat was good, and so we stood there as the sun
Beat down on us and drank and looked and felt
The mystery of art and life and love all wrapped
Into the two of us just standing looking up
Into a painting that was just half done
And felt how just and right it was in New Orleans.

"Then, just like that, the day was gone. We left
Our wall and walked to Bourbon Street and heard
Cacophonies of jazz and tourists dancing in the streets.
The world was good, and we were good. No wrong
Was left to trouble who we were or where our feet
Would carry us no matter how much night
Descended on the earth.

"And then," he paused,
As if to sort through memories too far away to find.
"I can't remember how. We found a place
With lanterns hung upon black wrought-iron gates
And women dressed in ways I'd never seen before--
And everything was swirling, darkness, stars,
The women, me, my pal, and some rich man
Who kept on laughing like he was a clown.

"And suddenly I felt myself, my manhood, bone,
Saluting like a flag, the absinthe, blood,
As hot and throbbing as a heart flopped from the chest
And left to jump around alone without a man
To keep alive.

"The women, dressed as bright
As peacocks strutting in the sun, began to laugh.
And then I found myself in bed with one, and then
Another, then another, on and on, until the night
Had turned to day and day had turned to night again,
And I was still as hard as iron, as hot as iron,
Poured molten from a furnace at a steel mill.
I think the women played with me, breasts, thighs,
And bodies rocking in the motions born
When men were not yet men and still not animals.

"I got so sore I couldn't move and couldn't think.
But still I drank and moved and tried to sing
The ancient song until," he laughed. "I couldn't move.
I couldn't even wizz. That's just how bad it was."

He stopped and looked at Kuckuk, me, and smiled.

"Nice walk," he said. "Spring's almost here." He tipped
His cup, then stuck his tongue into the coffee's fire.