© Jennifer Reeser.
Used by permission.
All rights reserved.
Beneath a scalloped awning, black as soot,
I found myself at dusk, beside a street
Along whose distance I had come on foot,
Beside black lacquered doors — mine but two feet
Pacing through a pub amid a crowd
Unaccustomed to the proud, sub-tropic heat.
Observing, evanescent, disavowed,
I was as though some witness who had died,
The overhanging canopy my shroud.
A red, infernal light glowed, magnified
By lachrymosal glass and tavern fume
As I awaited my belated guide;
So tired of his delay — though to resume
My life within the world, without the wait
Would seem like flight away, upon a broom.
I did not wonder why my guide was late.
Instead, I pondered life’s approaching fringe,
To close the life in back of me: a gate.
Of iron this gate was wrought, pronged, with a hinge
Constructed clean, but rusted through the springs
And screeching, so to make a deaf man cringe;
The kind to carve a stone floor, when it swings,
Embedded in its plate, an oval brooch,
The numerals of French and Spanish kings.
I failed to note the guide’s discreet approach,
Attentions focused on the gate design.
He came by what? Not streetcar, nor by coach.
I knew how I had come to stand in line
As just another member on the tour —
The others round about, with beer or wine,
With flippancy to turn me insecure.
Where apprehensiveness gave way to worry,
I felt I could avoid, but was not sure.
Advising us sincerely not to curry
Proximity with local passersby,
He gathered us together, in a hurry.
“Be slight,” he cautioned, “here among the sly.”
As though to mean we each should be a ghost,
A warning from the corner of his eye,
A look which caught and held mine more than most.
“We love you all, and want you to return.”
He hooked one hand around a horse-head post.
“This is a place of danger you will learn
“Some righteous in our midst would call a ‘dive,’
“Which innocents and fools do well to spurn.
“On to our tour, then. There are those alive
“Who speculate the law of conservation
“Of energy ensures that they survive
“Who lose the body, and the deprivation
“Of some sound conduit — like love or peace —
“Compels the ones deprived of such sensation
“To linger with the living they decease
“In forms as-yet-inscrutable, to ‘live’
“As generated power without release;
“That each imprints itself — a negative
“Affixed to our world, whereupon the haunt
“May symbolize that which will not forgive.
“Some will appear as healthy, others gaunt;
“While many seem to want nothing at all,
“Others may manifest to soothe, or taunt.
“Our fears are large, our comprehension small.
“What reason keeps us dead, in this respect?
“Science is slow, and few possess great gall.
“Now, if you will, stay with the group, collect
“Your wits and your belongings. We are off.
“I ask that you would have your blinders checked,
“Be courteous, sincere, and circumspect.”
A final time, I grasped the gate in back
Of me, and found its wasted iron chilling —
Best left, perhaps, unfastened, just a crack.
The tourists at my side stood — most unwilling
To move beyond the pub, to be the first
To hear and witness what might mean the killing
Of their wise doubt, if worse should come to worst.
I wished to be the member far behind.
For who was I to lead, lame and accursed?
Mine was no quicker pace, no brighter mind
For answering the polls our guide would pose.
No sage nor sport was I, of humankind.
But, keeping watch in case the gate should close,
Leaving us all in that amusement park
Of fear, I went. It was the lead I chose.
As grackles scattered in the growing dark,
Some tossed them crumbs, with credible unrest.
One quoted from the gospel of Saint Mark.
Our guide continued like a man possessed,
He in whose procedure, pride is deceased.
Somehow, with a wince, I kept abreast.
We passed un-weeded alleyways, un-leased
Apartments empty as my temper — walled,
Decrepit and macabre — proceeding east
Across what seemed like acres, where there crawled
The sphinx moth caterpillar: emerald jade
In color, cowled as though a monk, and bald.
A float from some past Mardi Gras parade
We passed. Its lengths of curling, tattered crepe
Waved in the wind, toward a street blockade:
Slim, tentacle-like scrolls of gold and grape,
The tenebrous remains of gaiety,
Faded worms of melancholy — changing shape.
A minister beside his laity,
But muttering as though he were alone
In tones to hint of spontaneity,
Stumbled on an orange traffic cone,
And brushing by me, mumbled, “Beg your pardon,”
Our final destination still unknown.
Through putrid fragrance from a courtyard garden,
I studied waifish shadows fashion, drift,
Resume on terra cotta brick, and harden.
Like gruesome ribbon on a Christmas gift,
With intricate despondency, they drew
Toward a tower tolling the graveyard shift.
I longed to feel — for once — some déjà vu,
A little illness, as if admonition
Not to do what I had come to do.
But this was not to be. I had a mission
As gravid as the scientist’s, within
Propelling me, whether fact or superstition;
The purpose of the poet: to begin
With nothing and from nowhere, to observe,
Then form a thing of beauty from great sin.
And twice the spirits now would not unnerve
My night’s resolve, transformed from afternoon.
Our guide spoke, as we came around a curve.
“It’s been a school for young girls, a saloon,
a shop, a musical conservatory,
apartment quarters — each abandoned soon,
Possessing lore and circumstance as gory
As any on this planet you will hear:
The mansion of Marie Delphine Lalaurie.
Please raise your gazes to the second story.”
Text prepared by:
- Bruce R. Magee
Reeser, Jennifer. The LaLaurie Horror. Westlake, LA: St. James Infirmary Books, 2013. Print.