You were one of the children of forgotten Lou'sian:
stories never told until told to me:
black, white and brown, high yellow, Asian,
Chocktaw, Creek and Houmas,
sanctuary dwellers in warehouse Algiers,
when abandonment was a neighbourhood,
and you and your friends were
refugees of the atomic age, escapees
from decaying nuclear bonds,
abused, berated, shattered and bereft;
led across the Mississippi River
by a daemon genius for flight.
Some of you never returned, some did.
Only you and another know when it began, and yet,
for a time, one extended Summer of Love ago, you all lived as one
in the Naiad mysts of melancholic wharves.
You made your ways through boarded windows
past unpunched time-clocks; unturned calendars of working days:
you dragged tables, chairs, beds and blankets through the nights,
created a kitchen in candlelight no one passing ever saw;
learned to separate shadows from darkness, defying despair,
hunting dumpsters for reusables,
edibles for large pots, just enough for all;
everyone grateful, much of the time,
however little there was,
the lot of you sworn off stealing because theft
is unforgivable in America, as declared by the founders,
you and Leland, as a danger to Haven.
Otherwise, boys almost men sold themselves to uptown cadillacs
for cum-blown rides and buggery in rooms;
women... girls, escaped from ponytails and dolls,
were taken in every hole by hard men, or by lonely ones,
you who knew love and could face hate outside,
returned with food, medicines and sundries:
with scars and secrets sometimes shared,
long odds you all beat, beating time together
in a place you still call Havre, Bìfēnggǎng, Cheh Ah Pah, and Attuko,
Haven of Lou'sian's children.
Like Jimmy Little Rat, for whom no crack was too small,
stealth of shadows; diffidence of cats,
vanished into a sewer and never came back.
Like Linda the Red and Billy the Knife, took one another
as husband and wife then rode the junk train in their veins
til they had to be left where someone else could find them,
untraceable to the warehouse; while only those
who carried and spy boy'd for them cared that Linda and Billy were dead,
though a newsman who knew of Haven had word
slipped his way, of families in Slaughter, front pages there
of William Roberts III and his Creek wife, Linda Tuskineah
of lives before heroin.
And then there was Pedro,
claiming ancestry from an Amazon Riverboat gambler :
a kid you all thought lived in a time and place that never was: a headspace
that got him knifed for sleighting one five-card hand too many,
the reason you all thought he staggered down Patterson alone with a stiletto-opened back,
not yet seventeen; a headspace that left him dead on the Levee,
eyes open on the River of his dreams,
left by you kids for the cops, the only time he was ever caught.
The oldest of you was twenty, the youngest, twelve, Kitty,
tubercular, runaway from Slidell, carried by the child whores
on a board though hurricane debris, coughing black blood
to a roofless church, where wailing, unseeing, plaster-eyed nuns
received her like a sacrament; thereafter kept Haven in their prayer,
and Kitty. Seven years later, a newly frocked priest
gave up his collar for her good graces;
the two still work the hallucinatory streets,
lay missionaries to the offspring of Babylon Inc.
Children of forgotten Lou'sian, you scavenged yourselves
out of the abandoned wilderness, blew teliko winds
on brass fittings and pipes, drummed buckets and cans;
strummed strung-wire screwed onto resonators,
wailed joy and ache in a warehouse cellar,
while the working world ignored you, never heard you.
Down there was a miraculous dry hole,
cobble floors painted with your rage and redemptions,
resounding halls scrawled with your couplets and epitaphs;
jacknife-cut into ancient beams and timber posts,
carved into the clay brick walls, inner-mind reliefs of one another;
together in arrays, twos and threes; fours and others at once
loving, pleasing, despairing, in need of kindness;
cooking, cleaning, shedding family codes for personal reasons,
baggage busted open, remade under one rule:
Protect Haven and those who seek it!
chiseled onto the lintel over the cellar door.
Protect it, like Ginny, The Lupo did, daughter of a mafia don.
Ginny could talk her way out of anything but a run-in
with a wop-hating cracker from Gretna who beat her so badly
she spent months recovering in the care of those who knew her best
while the cracker went on with his business outside,
went on until Ginny could speak again, after which, he was found
with a bullet in his brain, hanging on a lamppost on Tolliss
near the Crescent City Bridge. Ginny was gone,
but came back to say goodbye, bringing food and blankets and wine
time after time. The Lupo never forgets her friends, and never will.
Friends like Saint Odile, the daughter of a Spiritual Church preacher from Thibodaux,
who had sex with anyone in the group if loneliness was breaking them,
til she got pregnant and carried the child full term,
gave birth to a son she named Jonah, born in a round heating duct
Jimmy Little Rat called The Whale,
although Saint Odile re-named it Birthplace
so that's what it was for other mothers.
Odile herself went home with Jonah,
left him for her father with the Ladies Auxiliary.
The rumour's always told, how she's a cook on oil platforms,
shipping out of Beaumont, Texas; there's another told,
that she keeps leaving kids for the Reverend,
'though no one knows why, 'several went asking;
only no one found her, until we did, and you met Jonah again,
realized his father was Leland, who co-founded Haven with you.
The other Summer of Love was for those who sought
Peace with flowers in their hair, while your summer of love
was lived full bore down Haven Lane
while wharves rotted, pilings reflected oil tanker streams of down river sheen;
and ocean going ships in brackish water and reeds,
where the coral snake rhyme came handy:
“Red and yellow, kill a fellow; red and black, friend of Jack.”
Your Summer of Love came before Jonah's father,
Leland, was lynched.
Leland whose only crime was doing his best
for those who needed him:
lynched for being black, for loving you, someone lighter,
you, Aurore, who never forgets, and who afterward walked the streets
because heroin almost took you the night Billy and Linda died,
when others who loved you got you home,
so time could reconcile you with your parents,
so you could find love again, eventually meet me,
which is when time and spirit
found a realm in which you could know Leland again,
if only in passing, a place and night
in which he saw you and you saw him, as did Jonah;
so now we all understand that death has no dominion
and Haven never ends.
For those of you still alive, the memories never die,
for those of you among the dead, you're still inside the living,
and for those of you whose minds broke, or silenced;
you too, are never forgotten,
remembered across decades,
the living yet hoping
to one day lead you all back
in the name of the one
who was hung on a tree,
in the name of Leland, the heart of Haven
still howling Algiers while the urban stars and our unborn generations
are given free passage and a berth
to the new heaven and earth.