Author: Amanda Auchter

Amanda Auchter is the founding editor of Pebble Lake Review and the author of The Wishing Tomb, winner of the 2012 Perugia Press Book Award, and The Glass Crib, winner of the 2010 Zone 3 Press First Book Award. Her work has appeared in the American Poetry Review, Bellevue Literary Review, Crab Orchard Review, The Greensboro Review, Indiana Review, Quarterly West, Poetry Daily, and others. She holds an MFA from Bennington College and teaches creative writing and literature at Lone Star College. She lives in Houston, TX.

Do You Know What It Means & Harriet Beecher Stowe at the Cornstalk Hotel, New Orleans, 1850 & Gunshot Pastoral & The City That Care Forgot

Do You Know What It Means

New Orleans, 1949

Satchmo, you returned to this paddleboat
city as King of Zulu, king

of blackface and grass skirts,
jazzed tongue blowing into the confetti

of beads. Louis, you returned
to your Storyville streets, the red lights

long gone out. You returned to the ghost

of your mother, her peignoir past noon, her body
a book flipped open. Here is your childhood,

the wheelbarrow, the coal you drug into dusk
before you could read, before

you could blow. Satchelmouth,
you waved your hand into the swamp

of memory, looked through
a window at ice clinking in glasses

you were not allowed to touch. You turned away,
boarded a plane, watched the city

grow distant. Dark

as a mouth with its teeth removed. The city,
a song you wrote at 30,000 feet.

Harriet Beecher Stowe at the Cornstalk Hotel, New Orleans, 1850

A man and a woman arrive together

in chains. His voice surfaces—
I shall try to meet you there—but I cannot

hear what follows. Tea cools in white china.
I think of horses, the way they walk back

and forth, hold up their heads. Horses,
the way a man in a coat turns them about,

opens their mouths, checks their teeth. Scars

on the flanks. A chimney gasps smoke
into the afternoon. The body looted. A child

plays a violin outside the stalls, watches
as women remove their handkerchiefs,

show their hands. A whip

weaves close to the ears. The balcony overlooks
a narrow street, a cart and driver.

The voices drift out, an edge

of an outline. The voices say, I hope
you will try to meet me in heaven.

I shall try to meet you there.

Gunshot Pastoral

In November 1834, Baroness Micaela Almonester de Pontalba was shot four times at point-blank range by her father-in-law Baron Joseph Delfau de Pontalba, who was enraged at her attempts to divorce his son, Celestin. She survived to go on to commission the famous Pontalba Apartments in New Orleans’ Jackson Square.

How animal I am in my desire
to live: my body a plague

of gun-shots, starburst
wounds. My body brooding in the damp

heat of breath, of the pistol-
echo in my ears. My fingers a broken nest

wrapped in sinew, bone. I listen to the red drum

of my heart, its blood a wind

carrying through me. I held my fingers up
to my chest, a motion of no

or stop. Each bullet collapsed
inside me, the red silking

through my clothes, the afternoon. How spectacular
the pain: a fire burning

through a dry field. A house undone. How alive
I am here in the winter light,

in the silver thread
of smoke. I held up my hands,

turned away.
My voice swung back into my throat.

The City That Care Forgot

You were here once; you will be here again.
—Joanna Klink

What brings you back is the sugared air

that seeps its way through
the streets. The scrolled iron balconies,
banana-leaved courtyards, gas lamps draped

with bright plastic beads. Not the water-

stained drywall, crushed fence, the X-
marked houses. Not the ruin
of mosquito fever, flood, the history

of bodies hung by the neck in trees,
but how the river collects daylight, the sound

of trumpets in late afternoon. You return to this

humid sweep, the second lines of handkerchiefs,
magnolia in every scene. Long ago,
this was the city that care forgot: mold-scarred,

splintered chairs washing upstream. A city
of tents, of wind-wrapped shutters, shotgun

houses. What brings you back. The city

turns its umbrellas in the sun, lights fire
for roux. What calls you: the music

of a gate opening onto Tchoupitoulas Street,
chicory-heat, the roof tiles

in the black sky. The water. The rising.