The Tribe Has Gone Awry and other works by Kelly Gartman

Originally from Mobile, Kelly Gartman moved to New Orleans in 2000. She graduated from Spring Hill College in 1998 with a Bachelor of Arts in Literature, and then from the University of New Orleans in 2004 with a Master of Fine Arts in Poetry. Gartman has worked as a technical writer, risk management chairperson, graphic designer, quality control adviser, training consultant, software tester and application developer in various sectors for over seven years. In 2008, Gartman founded Belle Nola, a technical writing/graphic design company based in New Orleans. She is the author of Very Bad Poems for a Very Bad Man.


What's It Like?

People ask me what New Orleans is like these days.

Well, this city is hard to take this time of year. It's hot. Burn-your-bare-feet-on-the-porch hot. Eighty-five degrees at 8 a.m. It's HOT.

The onslaught of summer, legendary in these sub-tropic parts, arrived with a thunderous wallop about a week ago. You can practically hear the sidewalks cracking, the dirt baking in pots, leaves wilting, concrete gasping.

The tension is building. Spring is officially Over.

And with the heat, crime rates spike. More murders, more robberies, more car theft. School's out, or about to be, and that means lots of bored juveniles with time on their hands.

Hurricane season starts in a few days. The levees are stuffed with newspaper.

I don't even read the local news any more.

The past few days, I've seen several people walk into oncoming traffic, clearly ripped out of their skulls. Homeless, wasted, drunk, tricking, scouting, high. People here are broken and it's getting worse.

The air - you could weigh it on a digital scale: five pounds per square inch of blistering yellow heat. Like someone dropping a rubber hammer on top of your head repeatedly as you walk down the street. Lifting one's knees requires supreme effort; we stoop under the wet, steamy, sex-stained bed sheet draping the breasts and navel of uptown and downtown, the pelvis of the swamp. Everything sticks to everything else.

God help you if you've been drinking and have to catch a bus.

People are hiding, not answering their phones, staying tucked inside, away from the sweltering shimmers, from the hallucinations, from the unrelenting headaches and boredom turned bloody.

I feel a heavy dread this time of year, like something awful is about to happen: waiting for the wave. For the bomb. For the phone call.

New Orleans is a sweaty cess pool, don't let anyone tell you different. It's a gorgeous, dynamic, sexy, vivid cess pool, but a cess pool still the same.

Such is the source of inspiration.

I can't imagine living anywhere else.


The Tribe Has Gone Awry

"What year is it?" the woman wonders aloud
hobbling along a sidewalk downtown
holding her hand out as if
she expects the answer in rubies.

I place a ceramic dove from my coat pocket
into her palm.
Snow sticks in our hair
making us sisters in weather.

She walks away murmuring, "This dove has forgotten
how to fly. Someone has glued his wings
to his sides. How awful."

And how awful for the Tribe members left
wandering this city.
They have all glued their wings
to their sides in sad defiance

so they wobble aimlessly about town
with a protracted lean
getting in the way of pigeons
who cope much more efficiently
with this thing.

The Tribe, in its madness, developed
apathy cauterized with drugs and some snapping.
It denotes the color of maple syrup.
It sounds like the end of a scream.

"We're tired," she says. "We're so tired under the beams."
And she picks at the dove's white ceramic Es
where functional wings would better be.

Snow piles on her crown.
She makes a salt pillar standing now
in front of the boarded Saenger
as sodium bulbs pool light around her bandaged feet
with pops and hisses.

Only pieces remain of our tents.
Doctors only have to say they are doctors
and paint their faces white.
Everything is blown open and stretched out
and no one can find where they used to live
when buildings, homes and humans are skewed, hidden or just