Still Life w/ Creole Tomatoes and other works by Nancy Harris


Poet Nancy Harris hosts the weekly poetry reading at The Maple Leaf on Sundays in New Orleans. She is the author of two collections of poetry: The Ape Woman Story (New Orleans: Portals Press, 1989), and Mirror Wars (New Orleans: Portals Press, 1999). Harris' works have been featured in numerous journals including YAWP: a Journal of Poetry & Art.


Still Life w/ Creole Tomatoes

I still live on the side of my life
    that was there
       I thought was whole

my eyes ate a simile in the headlines:
"Like Bricks on Jello"
& the levees broke like rock 'n roll lyrics
& I ain't got no Creole tomatoes
just hungry haunted blues
& my dog Orpheus lies dying

still life beside me dogging my etouffe blues
thanksgiving in a city care forgot
fema forgot
post office forgot
post Katrina blues
no Creole tomatoes
just camouflaged humvees
military police at the notre dame seminary
Our Lady of Creole Tomatoes
seminal blues where the fruit & vegetable truck
used to stay on Carrollton Avenue
with those Creole tomatoes

I bought a $10 box right before Katrina
took those Creole tomatoes w/ me to Hattiesburg
ate those Vienna sausages w/ my Creole tomatoes
For a week w/ no power no water no CNN

didn't know the levees broke
didn't know the Superdome blues
the convention center blues
didn't know news

& Orpheus w/ golden glowing eyes
was headlining osteosarcoma
limping around those pine trees
while I was pining for Creole tomatoes
-- banana & palm trees, mimosa & hibiscus--
the last bite a sacrament
holy Creole tomatoes
succulent nostalgia like crawfish
swimming in toxic gumbo
levitating ghosts eating coffin flies

I want my still life w/ Creole tomatoes
my whole dog Orpheus
w/ a whole leg not an egg of bone cancer
growing like a stuffed Creole tomato
fried green gangrened
coffin flies gathering like locusts

I am still in my life w/out Creole tomatoes
a gulf of despair: hurricanes w/ greek names in November
I remember the side of my life
still w/ Creole tomatoes
a casserole of hope:
I Eurydice & Orpheus looked back
to the poetry of Creole tomatoes
fetch me back too

to my life still full w/ Creole tomatoes
no similes brewing
to metaphors stewing
like my life still as august 26th
Orphan pup's 11th birthday
catastrophe 3 days away

now it's December the winter solstice
stalking the city like a hungry jaguar:
Orpheus is dead
the cancer ate him up &
it's Christmas in a city care forgot
fema forgot, post office forgot:
my last sacrificial gift:
ashes in a floral etched silver urn &
this ain't no story written on jello


Katrina Kristmas

last year I returned from the gulf coast
after the family gathering
to witness snowflakes
"real snowflakes" I recall telling my mother on the phone
like the ones in new rochelle where I grew up
before the family moved south
the summer of '64 to greenwood, ms
the summer of mississippi burning
when my mother went to a grocery
& the clerk aimed a rifle at her
"what are you doing here yankee"

last christmas silvery metallic snowflakes
each geometrically unique fell against my cheek
burning individual designs exquisitely true
the day before the tsunami that shifted the earth's axis
minutely fractile perfectly invisible to the naked eye

this kristmas I stayed home in new orleans
no visit to family - too depressed after orpheus
no gifts, just hollow gasps of breath
family on the coast in ocean springs
after the phone call to brothers, parents, nieces, nephews
after the gossipy news

I took my hollow form
out on the back deck
the sky turqoise
the sun brilliant gold
the silver & amethyst
pendant & earrings
burning my cheeks & breastbone
searing them with healing heat
my eyes drinking in the swirling energy

wishing the fence would finally be built
so my 3 remaining dogs could have a yard
thinking of the golden glowing amber eyes of orpheus
golden retriever, put to sleep 2 weeks ago
his remains in a silvery etched urn
burning hollow grief
relief in this katrina kristmas

I sit on the deck trying to heal my hollow depression
with thoughts of golden gems: citrine, topaz, amber, carnelian
eyes glazed with light/with life

& I look sideways at the almost lifeless orchid
left 6 weeks without water everything dried up
& moribund when I returned from hattiesburg in october
no rain - as if the healing was predestined -
the damn purple orchids are about to burst
with amethyst enthusiasm
out the spastic stalks

I am inside now in shadows writing this poem
I think about my friend today who needs healing
blood spurting from her mouth & nose
strokes, blood thinners, her topaz hair
the friend who called 8am sunday august 28th
& said category 5 get the hell out
probably saved my life & my dogs & cats
not orpheus though, the cancer already spread
throughout his form, earthly congregation of organs,
this katrina kristmas is only what it is:
pure energy recollected in tranquility.

my house is not yet healed, my soul wrecked
not decked in silver & amethyst, lights glimmering
invisible colors are tattoos across this listless day.
I wait for whatever may come, I wait for peace
on earth, I wait
for the damn orchids to bloom.