Marthe Reed: Five poems from 'Binx’s Blues,' with a note on the process

On lines from Walker Percy



still burning

sky over Gentilly


it is easily overlooked

strange island


the slightest interest

New Orleans


sags like rotten lace

behind high walls


a week before Mardi Gras

warm wind


and bearing it

the street looks tremendous



commencing to make a fire


the very sound of winter mornings

streaming with tears


the mantelpiece

an evening gown


against the darkening sky

so pleasant and easy


old world

gone to Natchez


a houseboat on Vermillion

more extraordinary


the sky

into her upturned face


her eyes

a soundless word


ample and mysterious

a litter of summers past




a fresh wind

transfigures everyone

stray bits and pieces

not distinguishable


a peculiar thing

August sunlight


in yellow bars


the mystery

of those summer afternoons

the islands in the south

going under


such a comfort

a corner of the wall


shallow and irregular


the happiest moment

the oddness of it

Carrollton Avenue early in the evening

like a seashell


her fingers on the zinc bar

cold and briney

like a boy who has come into a place

already moved




inside the wet leaves

the smell of coffee

theTchoupitoulas docks


Negro men carry children


the flambeaux bearers


showering sparks

“Ah now!”



like crusaders

leaning forward

whole bunches of necklaces


that sail

toward us on horseback

loose in the city


the entire neighborhood






simulacrum of a dream

like a sore tooth

commoner than sparrows


celebrating the rites of spring

yellow-cotton smell

thumb-smudge over Chef Menteur



the bright upper air

the world is all sky


a broken vee

suddenly white

the tilting salient of sunlight


diesel rigs

glowing like rubies

nothing better



over Elysian Fields

who really wants to listen


in the thick singing darkness


in a streetcar


an accidental repetition

her woman’s despair

a little carcass


a kiss on the mouth

not even

the earth has memories of winter




the sidewalks, anyhow

virginal, as

perfect lawns

fog from the lake


seeing the footprint on the beach

a queer thing

tunneled by

new green shoots


black earth

the very words

full of pretty



connive with me

down the levee

a drift of honeysuckle

oil cans


forget about women

the sunshine

along her thigh

the tiny fossa


saved me

facet and swell

tilting her head

far away as Eufala



 Nomad, belonging accidentally and always at some remove to the places I find myself inhabiting, how root into these places, shift from being outside or between? Neither here nor there. After living eleven years in south Louisiana, drawn to the richness of its cultures, landscape, and history, painfully aware of the human brutality and environmental crises comprised therein, the sustained, willful political short-sightedness, I sought a language of place that could complicate as well as deploy the contradictory experiences of attachment and alienation without falling into the tropes of “awe/wonder”—othering the world of which we are inevitably, inextricably a part—and angry didacticism. I turned to extant texts: Florula Ludoviciana, an 1807 flora of the state first published in Paris by C. C. Robin and then in English with emendations by Constantine Rafinesque,EPA reports, reportage from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina (2005) and the BP Oil Macondo blowout (2010), oral histories, and novels written and set in south Louisiana, among many sources. Of the latter, I drew upon Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer, perhaps the quintessential novel of New Orleans, or at least white New Orleans of a particular moment, and Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, from which these pieces are derived. Attending to passages in which particulars of place were most evident, I isolated these as source-material. Cutting and juxtaposing short phrases (each line-break is an intact cut from the original) to create texts that afforded a means of writing about place, healing to a degree the otherness of my outsider status and perhaps in other ways, highlighting it, while also foregrounding language. These cut-ups move sequentially forward in the source texts and juxtapose an urban experience with a rural one.  The cutting technique gave permission to write about south Louisiana, affording a way in to this place, which is simultaneously mine and not mine at all.