Coming Home: Poetry of New Orleans & Tales of the Cocktail


Some slow evenings when the light hangs late and stubborn in the sky,

gives itself up to darkness slowly and deliberately, slow cloud after slow cloud,

slowness enters me like something familiar,

So begins Sheryl St. Germain’s poem “Going Home: New Orleans,” published online at the Poetry Foundation. This poem captures the lazy heat of summer in the South: the sun that just won’t set no matter how much we will it to, the way we must adjust our gait to avoid sweating through our good clothes. July and August are largely sluggish in this city, with the exception of the special events that make it worth our while to hustle.

After a few dormant years due to the pandemic, late in July, Tales of the Cocktail returned to New Orleans to celebrate its 20th birthday this year. Founded in 2002 as a walking tour of historic cocktail bars, Tales has grown into the world’s premier cocktail festival, featuring international bartenders and their uniquely boozy creations.

and the weeping, the willows, the cut onions, the cayenne, the slow-cooking

beans with marrow-thick gravy;

and all the mint juleps drunk so slowly on all the slow southern porches,

I have to admit, I was skeptical at first. Summers are hot: why would I want to rush around to a thousand bars and drink the strongest possible drinks? But Tales of the Cocktail isn’t about marathon imbibement as much as it is creativity and community (plus, there are many secret swimming pools).The festival’s focus is on collaboration and storytelling: what can we make together, and how can we bring people together?

the bourbon and sugar and mint going down warm and brown, syrup and slow;

and all the ice cubes melting in all the iced teas,

all the slow-faced people sitting in all the slowly rocking rockers;

“It’s all there in the disappearing light,” St. Germain shows us. Tales of the Cocktail events take place all day and all through the night, but these special moments shared together become sacred memories just like the ones St. Germain describes. We gather together and share our stories, sipping slow. As fast-paced as a festival of this caliber can be, ultimately, it’s about the small moments where we are together, sharing sips and breaking bread,

and the slow lips that eat and drink and love and speak

that slow luxurious language, savoring each word like a long-missed lover

For me, the highlights of Tales of the Cocktail 2022 took place at The Chloe, whose team is not only incredibly talented but inquisitive and generous, and Sylvain, which hosted a Death & Co collaboration with Pernod Ricard in the French Quarter. Featuring poetic cocktails like the Luck of the Draw and the Truthsayer, this special take-over event was much more than boozy: it created a space where we could come together and experience creativity alongside camaraderie, slow in our discussion, our snacking, our limitless ordering off the tasting menu. The slowness of possibility has a certain magic to it,

and it feels like going home.

The word “slow” appears in St. Germain’s poem 29 times, floating through nearly every line as the poem ambles across and down the page, the way we move in the heat of these long, summer days; the way ice cubes melt in the plastic go-cups of cocktails mixed with care by folks who know that drinks are a form of art.

Tales of the Cocktail provided some respite to the hot, sluggish drag of July, and until next year, we must shake and stir our own drinks, riding high off the inspiration provided by the mixologists of Death & Co, Amor y Amargo, and so many others. Until it cools, we will keep the drinking poems close, dreaming

…the slow dreams and the slow-healing wounds and the slow smoke of it all

slipping out, ballooning into the sky—slow, deliberate, and magnificent

Stacey Balkun is the author of Eppur Si Muove, Jackalope-Girl Learns to Speak & Lost City Museum. Winner of the 2017 Women's National Book Association Poetry Prize, her work has appeared in Best New Poets, Crab Orchard Review, The Rumpus, and other anthologies & journals. Chapbook Series Editor for Sundress Publications, Stacey holds an MFA from Fresno State and teaches poetry online at The Poetry Barn & The Loft. Find her online at