Tag Archives: Mardi Gras

February’s Foot

Ground Hog’s Day seems a good time to make this announcement.  My book, My Bayou: New Orleans through the Eyes of  a Lover (Michigan State University Press) has been published and should arrive in bookstores any day now.  There is more information on my new website.

Ground Hog’s Day or February 2nd is also Imbolc, sacred to Brigid with her great belly-shaped cauldron.  It is also the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin, when the Blessed Mother leaves her postpartum seclusion and goes to the temple, where she is bathed and prepared to re-enter society.  Forty days after his birth, her baby has grown safely past that delicate, infection-prone stage of early life, and she may present him to the world without fear that he’ll catch his death of cold.

The day marks the faint stirring of new life.  It shows here in this mild, rainy humid place.  The Japanese magnolia in my yard is sprouting all over with small green leaves.  There is a lot of dead brown junk, but I see the beginnings stirring underneath.  This weather would be considered spring by most other standards.  Emily looks onto a New England winter that is nothing like mine.

#1133, ca. 1868

The Snow that never drifts —
The transient, fragrant snow
That comes a single time a Year
Is softly driving now —

So thorough in the Tree
At night beneath the star
That it was February’s Foot
Experience would swear —

Like Winter as a Face
We stern and former knew
Repaired of all but Loneliness
By Nature’s Alibi —

Were every storm so spice
The Value could not be —
We buy with contrast — Pang is good
As near as memory —

The only thing Emily and I have in common right now is February’s Foot. We’re both under it. The difference between this condition in Amherst, Massachusetts and New Orleans is that here February’s Foot wears a jeweled strappy sandal with a soft sole and a kitten heel. In Emily’s case, the foot on her neck wears an ice-crusted boot, thick, solid, unforgiving.

The winter freeze in her poem has a cleansing quality, setting out a pure white space. The cold kills off everything but loneliness. The color of white is really the absence of color. We can even call white the color of death exactly—it does not point to loss or decay, but removal.  A vacancy, where life and color used to be.

This a an abrupt contrast to my February where winter is a riot of color. Purple, gold and green! Carnival is about to explode into our daily lives. We grow fat on cake and misbehavior. One of the first changes I noticed in myself when I made New Orleans my home was that my customary seasonal affective disorder disappeared. All my life I had experienced a deep depression in winter. My emotional state went into steep decline in January and a didn’t come up to a level approaching normal until April, after the ice had thawed. Once I’d had a few winters in New Orleans, I noticed this depression never had a chance to take hold of me again. Just as winter sadness began to creep into me, Carnival would snap its fingers, and I had to get busy, making my costume. It’s impossible to be depressed under the gauzy banner of Mardi Gras. Plus the weather doesn’t lock you indoors where depression incubates. Who knew?! All those years I didn’t need anti-depressants, just the Pagan Rites of Carnival.

This is genius, whoever thought of it. What a smart antidote to the inevitable emotional flattening that our environment slams us with each season. Of course, New Orleans is not the only place to celebrate Carnival. The practice exists in France, Germany, Italy, South America . . . wherever you find deep and old enclaves of Roman Catholics, you find this wise, psycho-cultural anti-depressant. Just not in New England. Those Protestants wear their depression with pride. Important to note this is not the grand, sparkling, spiking pain of Roman Catholic suffering—also called “passion”—how operatic. No, the Protestants have cornered the market on that low-grade, chronic, dulling down, long drawn-out suffering—the pain of endurance.

I’m over-simplifying, but I’ve got my reasons.

Emily strives to make the point, “pang is good.” She insists we need these blanketing snow-bound February storms where all the eye can see disappears as if into the great void for a time, which on the poet’s clock is forever. Emily claims that without the contrast, we do not gain the emotional value of the return to life. While under the frost of February’s foot, the depressed person cannot remember anything else but nothingness and loneliness. It stretches infinitely in all directions at once. The depressed mind knows no limits, sees no shape or cycle to her emotional life. Each minute of winter is eternal.

Emily wants us to consider the value first of being muffled into vacancy and then given a reprieve. The shift from nothing to something, the first green shoot that sends life and juice into all our cells, and we return to ourselves. Em says we can’t fill ourselves up without first becoming empty.

I’m not sure . . . after enduring plenty of those vacant winters myself, I want to invite Emily to live in south Louisiana for a few seasons and then ask if she is still so attached to that seasonal affective disorder. I’m glad she has made poems about it. What else is there to do in western Massachusetts in February? Still I’d like to see what Emily would do with Carnival. Wouldn’t you?


Filed under Emily Every Day

Death and the Fairy

Late as usual for my Ash Wednesday installment, and now bump . . . this Mardi Gras Fairy has come down to earth. The details of my costume are so rich with nuance, I almost can’t render them here. Well okay, I’ll try. I wore a high pointed cone hat, covered in pink silk, draped with a sheer ecru veil and secured with a long pale green ribbon beneath my chin. Down below I wore an old pink satin strapless prom dress that I found at Thrift City, only I had massacred this dress so that the skirt rose in a large padded poof around my waist. I also glued a hundred or so lavender silk flower petals to the dress so they flapped in the breeze as I walked. (Never underestimate a girl with a glue gun.) Even farther down below I wore pink lace knickers, a shocking red garter, pale pink and hot pink striped stockings, and a pair of pink patent leather Converse high-top sneakers with white trim. I was a riot of pink.

Geoff said he’d never be able to take me seriously again after seeing me in this get-up. I consider this a small loss in the scheme of things, as I had already relinquished my dignity long ago. Or maybe that was my shame I heard whistling out the window. Can’t be sure, but I am missing at least one of these.

On Mardi Gras morning this Pink Fairy danced with Death in front of St. Louis Cathedral. The Treme Brass Band blasted away, while the crazy Christians marched up and down with their scary signs and shouted, “The wages of sin are death!” “No!” I wanted to answer, “The wages of sin are bladder infections!” They wouldn’t listen. No matter. “Hell for the company,” I always say.

I like dancing with Death. He’s strong, confident and doesn’t care who’s looking. Nor is he particularly flustered by the crazy Christians. Death just smiles and waits. He is patient and compassionate. He may shake your hand. The great leveler, he accepts everyone. This year, however, Death wore a Saints helmet just to show where his true heart lies, and that should explain how that “sudden death” coin toss in the Vikings game went in our favor. Death hovers over Chance. Don’t kid yourself. Plus Death loves the Saints because the Saints embrace Death with gladness. Whatever they do, the Saints are willing to die in order to do it. Certainly, they have died enough in the past to know what that means. Death rewards the Saints for entering into a conscious relationship with the end of life by making them brave and therefore invincible. It is the awareness of Death that pleases him. Death only wants to be recognized and appreciated. What any of us wants.

It should be noted here as well that Death has an appetite for Pink Fairies. He takes them with tea and toast in the morning. That is if he can catch one before she transforms into a cloud of smoke.

You might expect Emily to have tossed out her classic: “Because I could not stop for Death —/ He kindly stopped for me —” You know, that old “Death as the Courtly Gentleman” thing that she does. Nah, too obvious. Instead, she sent the following:

#885, c. 1864

Our little Kinsmen — after Rain
In plenty may be seen,
A Pink and Pulpy multitude
The tepid Ground upon.

A needless life, it seemed to me
Until a little Bird
As to a Hospitality
Advanced and breakfasted.

As I of He, so God of Me
I pondered, may have judged,
And left the little Angle Worm
With Modesties enlarged.

Emily affects a faux innocence here. The repetition of “little” is awfully twee. At first glance, the poem seems like a harmless appreciation of nature and the beauty of the world. But look closer. Emily says that we are great and useful to God in the same way that the worm is great and useful to the bird—as food. He made us to be part of this cycle of eating and feeding, living, dying and fertilizing the earth. Don’t kid yourself. This “modesties enlarged” business is her grim joke. Modesty itself is a false pose. Arrogance hides behind the phony face of philosophy, theology, and other intellectual contrivances designed to separate us from an awareness of death. Humans always put themselves at the top of the food chain, in order to see themselves as closest to God. What folly, muses Emily.

Thank you, Emily for reminding us that our soft pink flesh is no better and no different than the pulpy mass on the ground. That we are all worm’s meat in the end. You are weird, Emily, and morbid. Still, I like you.


Filed under Emily Every Day