Louise McKinney, Tell It Long-Story-Short

Louise McKinney

that winter
met the ex-chop-shop-man/poet
(same thing),
got real drunk on possibility,
passion (same thing)—
DID drink too much
smoked too much
scattered seed enough to plant the land
in rows from Canada
to Mexico—
and danced, danced!

Danced the whole Christmas season
’til it got cold outside it snowed;
found ol’ Smokin’ Joe in his cups
(avec wheels),
and begged him:
“Good times Joe, don’t you know?
Don’t wanna miss ’em!
Come on, let’s split this scene,
let’s burn these leaves.”

Deadhead South
three-on-a-party in a car for the border
so many beer cans rolling, empties (floor chimes)
and lightning! Lightning!
Joe’s thundr’ing (in his sleep)
“F-ya” from the dark backseat,
but then all us greeting
Great Mississipp’s Waa-a-rm Brow-w-w-n Roll-l-l—
riverside, hands plunging deep-down to the bone
down at the shore, on the very edge,
down to the rind, and always on the very edge
of doing yes.
(“Life ain’t no straight line.”)

So, god, then, let-it-be-forever-more:
brown hands in Natchez,
serving barbecue, clashing plates
quaffs and riffs from the Queen of Soul,
with a toast to greet great writers,
bit of bourbon lifted, but never too late
for ol’ Count No-Count
(Faulkner, asleep in his grave).

Finally to our destination: New Orleans
doing what-it-takes
doing our own “thang,”
slaving for the lawyer/crook (same thing)
changing my name.
And going incognito, become a poet without fame
(same thing)
Bilking the system, falling into the swamp
wading wetlands in drinking, in indolence, in ennui
until I’m. . .

Marry the Born-Again Man
bear him three sons,
(Café du Monde shade, café au lait).
In short, we all settle down,
long after the miles and miles, and Miles
we’re buried to the hilt in silt,
anchored to a big easy bend of the river
’til floodwaters wash us all
far, far away, far away from there. . .
But it’s never all the way, and it’s never back—
because, it’s true,
you never can,
and you never (never ever-ever?) do.

Author’s Comment: When I decided to make New Orleans my home, after a whole year of adventuring (we called it a literary wanderjahr), many people asked why I’d traded the eternal winter of Canada for eternal summer in the Big Easy. I always told them: “Do you want the ‘official’ story, or the REAL one?” This poem tells the real story.

Bio: Louise McKinney is a Canadian expat-author originally from Toronto and now nonfiction editor of The Chattahoochee Review. Her book of creative nonfiction, New Orleans: A Cultural History documents the time she spent living in New Orleans, LA, pre-Katrina.

4 thoughts on “Louise McKinney, Tell It Long-Story-Short

  1. Louise: An absolutely breathtaking poem that brought me to tears! I read it through before reading your comment – before knowing, really, what you were writing about. I was reminded of reading Eliot, in that it’s a treat just to read the poem for the flow of language, the emotions, the images, even without completely understanding the context. I love it!

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