Everywhere Else, It’s Just Tuesday

Everywhere Else, It’s Just Tuesday


New Orleans may be known for its music, but it hosts an exciting literary scene as well. Po’ Boys & Poets, a 2018 Words & Music Festival event, featured six New Orleans-based poets and a room full of hungry guests treated to a lunch-time feast along with the soulful work of local poets, including Mona Lisa Saloy and James Nolan.


Both of these accomplished poets capture the complication of this city, in all of its complexity. Saloy and Nolan both reckon with the dark side of New Orleans while embracing the love, energy, and tradition that is its lifeblood, during carnival season and throughout the year.


Mona Lisa Saloy’s “A Taste of New Orleans in Haiku” (published in Red Beans and Ricely Yours, winner of the 2005 T.S. Eliot Prize, Truman State University Press, 2005) offers thirteen distinct bites of the city, beginning with an African American tradition of masking, an elaborate art form that has its roots coming out of slavery. The poem begins:



Mardi Gras Indians
red beans and rice, hot sausage

dancing Second Lines


In the tradition of haiku, Saloy privileges images: sight, sound, taste. We witness the local African American tradition of Mardi Gras Indians dressing in elaborate costumes featuring feathers and beadwork, the Monday night tradition of eating red beans, and a Second Line parade, organized by a social aid and pleasure club, marching through the neighborhood with brass bands. These images are all distinctly New Orleans, each a tradition birthed from necessity.


Haiku “vi” further explains the red beans:



Red beans and rice day
washing clothes all day Monday

add French bread, salad


Monday was wash day, for those hired to clean or too poor to hire help. This means that early on Monday, Sunday’s meat scraps went in a pot with beans and, after working all day, dinner would be ready and waiting. This is a tradition closely tied to poverty.


Saloy’s poem lives through and for tradition, moving between past and future. Haikus “x” and “xi” describe summers before and after the advent of air conditioning, and haiku “iv” focuses solely on Mardi Gras:



On Mardi Gras Day
skeletons remind all folks

you might be next yeah


Here, Saloy extrapolates on the tradition of masking: yes, costuming is fun and visually stimulating, but there is more below the surface. A skull reduces all of human experience to its core, and the skeleton krewes are out there rattling bones to remind us that life is short and death, imminent.


Like Saloy, Nolan seeks what lies below the surface. His poem “Over the Oysters” (published in Nasty Water, UL Press, 2018) takes place in a restaurant, where our speaker and a friend are eating oysters:


...waiters tilting to us tray
after tray of half shells

and pitcher after pitcher

of Dixie beer because here


in New Orleans feelings

are cheap and raw and opened

and we eat them by the dozen…


What nourishes and sustains is more than food: oysters are likened to “feelings” and both are not only “cheap” but “raw and opened.” This scene--two friends gabbing over drinks--is given depth and emotional resonance as they find themselves “weeping...over life” because


we are living it,

weeping over the oysters

as one by one we swallow them


In his collection’s title poem, “Nasty Water,” Nolan shifts from a narrative poem describing a conversation with an artist who wanted to paint a vase of dead roses and its nasty water into a meditation on the landscape of New Orleans. The poem catalogues different neighborhoods through the water that is found there: “green scum / from the lilies rotting” in the cemetery,


gelatinous holy

water from St. Rose

de Lima on Bayou Road




drain ditch gumbo

from the neutral ground

on St. Claude Avenue,


to name a few. The poem ends with a diatribe-turned celebration, capturing all that is decomposing and growing from what the city offers:


Nasty water? You say

you want nasty water?

New Orleans is a shimmering

mirage floating on nasty water,

irrigated by nasty water,

nasty water seeping out

of every pore, steeping

in crab grass on the levee

like a bitter green tea

then trickling in rivulets

down to that Queen of Nasty

water, the Mississippi,

Gaia of primordial funk,

mother of us all. We drink

her, brew her, cook her up

into okra gumbo, into

a lifelong Scorpionic

soup of afterbirths

and Extreme Unctions,

secretions and

family secrets:


nasty water,

nasty water,

“proud to call it home.”


Nolan captures the unrelenting energy of the city while diving below the surface of the nasty water that sustains as it poisons, that gives as easily as it takes. But to truly be proud, one must embrace place in its wholeness and pot hole-ness. A true poem of celebration must be honest and ruthless, including all that tourism advertises as well as all that lurks below the shimmering facade.


To examine New Orleans in its entirety means not overlooking its brutal history, myriad of flaws, and nasty water; to not lose sight of the fact that life is short and should be celebrated, as Saloy writes:



Going to the Mardi Gras

li’l kids, old kids, everyone

celebrates the day


Life can be trying--even dangerous--but for one day each year, we’re given reprieve: to mask and wander and love fully and openly, although everywhere else, it’s just Tuesday. Today, take a piece of this magic for yourself. Eat a piece of cake and listen to a marching band. Close your eyes and imagine folks of all generations dancing down the streets, together. Happy Mardi Gras!

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 http://www.staceybalkun.com/