Oh, How We Lived and Died There

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Kate Raynes

WE LIVED WHERE time failed to find us,

        there at the ends of the earth.

 

Oh, how we lazed away the days,

  sitting wordlessly for hours

    on that half-rotted dock

       in the blooming, hazy glow of morning.

 

Toes dangling below,

  we’d gaze down our shins

     at reflections of faces and feet   

      fractured by lily pads

        and pea soup patches

          of thick, green algae.

 

Before beams burned through the fog,

  while our fishing lines fished

    and our bobbers bobbed,

       we tuned in to the buzzing of the swamp,

        engulfed in a riot of quiet calm.

 

We lived there in the sights and the sounds and the sound-filled silence…

 

Where a river twists and winds,

  dotted by dams, with levees in line,

    we strove to control the flow

      that goes from the heartland

        out through a gaping maw.

 

        We strangled its tributaries

      in a tribute to our egos

    and quelled its deluge

  to a trickle of its former self.

 

We lived there in a struggle of man against nature, forever in awe…

 

We lived with Danger our companion.

 

  From the stop-dive of an osprey,

    to the death-roll of a gator,

      to the promise of floods

        and storms

          and soul-sucking poverty.

 

  ‘Twas Danger’s darkness that brightened our horizon—

    a relentless scourge of heat

      that turned the egrets snowy,

        draping oaks with cooling moss;

 

    the falling walls

      that gave us opportunity

        for building our communities,

          and strengthening foundations.

 

We lived there in the harmony of fluid chaos…

 

And oh, that water—

 

  That ever-present water

        gave us life

          and means

            and food,

        and took our lives

      and means

    and food.

 

That water floated us on its back

        as we struggled to keep our heads above.

 

  Homes aloft

    on jacked-up platforms,

      offerings to the hurricane gods.

  

      Cypress knees

        reaching up

          as the trees hungered for oxygen.

 

Even our birds wore stilts for fear of the floods.

 

We lived there in the depths, arms stretched to the Heavens…

 

We lived with Death our neighbor.

  Neither pleasant nor polite,

    she unleashed her fury

      with unwelcomed might,

        and a wrath to rival the gods’.

 

  Though, never fooled by false prophets,

    nor tempted by fate,

      we knew to cut bait

        when the silence loomed loud.

 

  ’Twas the threat of Death that gave us life—

    a menacing stillness that moved our music

      with bass drum heartbeats

        and brass horn harmonies;

 

    a haunting hunger

      that spiced our meals

        and drowned us in drink.

 

And oh, how we rejoiced!

 

  We marched to the beats

    of syncopated symphonies,

      singing praises in costumed crazes,

        feathered and sequined to the hilt.

 

We lived off that land of milk and honey,

  boiling in oil and oysters,

    swimming in shrimp and sugar,

      surrounded by sunshine and Tabasco sauce.

 

No, never let it be said that we did not live.

 

We died there.

 

  Bones aloft

    in crypts and catacombs,

      ashes blessed by the Voodoo priestess.

 

  We died Creole,

      Acadian,

        Cajun,

            Chitimacha.

 

  We died Boudreaux and Thibodeaux,

    floating our pirogues

      down tangled moats of bayous,

        then on to the great Gulf of Mexico.

 

We died Sinners and Saints

    with no complaints

        as we held our idols high.

~

Enjoyed this excerpt? Buy the book! Print and eBook formats available. Next: Perspective

About the Poet

KATE RAYNES is at once a painter, a dreamer, a writer, and a scientist. She lives a nomadic existence, yet can most often be found somewhere in Seattle, Washington, her faced pressed up against the glass.

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