275. New Orleans

Teeth chattering,
A cold sweat down her back,
Louise began to laugh.
She clapped her hands.
“You had me going, there!
You surely did!
Whoo, Lord!” She shivered,
Wiped her dripping face.
The shivers would not stop,
But came in waves.

“Riah, I’ll swear!”
Unmoving, Riah lay.
Louise, eyes averted,
Talked on, loud.
“Streets of New Orleans–
I tell you that one?
Lord,” she sighed, “that’s
Where I’d rather be,
Than any place.
Wish you’d been with me
Then”: she smoothed her skirt.
“The flower-carts! Right
Out there on the walk.
The roses, streaked and
Heavy-headed, nodding,
Make your mouth to water,
Pinked the sky–
A spray to tie your hair,
Two for a nickel.
And you’d need it–
Your hair, even, would go
Curly, that damp heat….

“Up and down the street
The beggars stand,
The halt, the lame,
The blind. They all have
Private corners called
Their own. Same
Curb each day, reliable
As street signs.
Intruder muscles in–
They cane him down.
The blinkies–that’s
The blind ones–with
Tin cans for coins,
Have their ways to tell
If they been
Stiffed–if some Joe
Tosses in a slug–
Can don’t ring true.
The D and D’s–deaf, dumb–
On down the street
Would help them out,
Give off a whistle, if some
Fellow pinched a pencil,
Shoelace, pins.
The prize locations, those go to
The peggies–got legs
Missing, and the wingies–
Lost an arm. Got to
Sit to good advantage, so
It shows. Mostly they’d
Lost it in the factories,
Machine would eat it up,
They’d be let go.

“Ones in wheelchairs–
Wheels, we called them–
Roam the block.
Help guard the money
Took in by the shakies
And the fitsies–ones that
Foamed, or bit their tongues–
Can’t hold cans proper.
And so the wheels would
Stash their profits for them–
On good days,
They’d skim the top.

“Unlucky ones, that
Starved when they was kids,
They’d get TB–the cops would
Pull them off the street.
Others just as bad off,
They grew sores. These
Folks–their name,
Blisters–have to
Stand back from their
Cans, or no one stops.

“And of course, some
Fake–the floppers,
Act all crippled,
Wriggling down the street.
Or toss-outs–throwed
Their elbows out of joint
Like they was freaks,
And jerked along.

“Funny thing to me,
The peggies and the shakies
Didn’t seem to mind–
As long as fakers
Staked out unclaimed ground,
Why, it was fine.
A fitsie tells me once:
‘Them toss-outs
Got to eat, the same as
You and me.’
That same guy–
Ain’t thought of him
In years–
He tells me once:
‘Louise,’ he says,
And shakes his head like so,
‘Now, this beats all.
Last night I met
A blister, wasn’t even
Sick. Six months, she
Couldn’t find no job.
She had a kid.
Rubbed acid on her arms,
To make them bleed.
So she could beg.’

“Of course, to some,
The street,
It’s just a joke.”
Louise shrugged.
“Me? Well, when
My room was off that
Street, I’d sleep real
Good, hearing all that
Clinking there. But
Before I’d join, I’d be
A bundle stiff.
You know–how
Bo got his name.
Hobo. He’s just
Another bo, till he
Stopped here.”

She could stare away
No longer.
She looked down.
Riah breathed.

Louise did, too.

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