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Painting by Heather Calderon

Hi friends! I recently had the pleasure of driving a thousand miles down to New Orleans for a destination wedding where, along with sugary beignets, chicory root coffee, shrimp etouffee, etc, etc, I stuffed myself full of inspiration for my first poetry prompt of the year. So, I realize we’re already nearly a week into the penitential season of Lent, for those of you who observe, but today I’m still hoping to look at one of the oldest and certainly most notorious traditions of “the Crescent City”: Mardi Gras.

It wasn’t until this visit that I learned “Fat Tuesday” isn’t just the one raucous, titillating day before solemn, reverent Ash Wednesday. It’s actually a whole season, commencing on the Feast day of the Epiphany on January 6, during which krewes, or Carnival organizations, parade the streets of the French Quarter and other city neighborhoods glorifying everything from high society’s royal court to the grotesque and grand mockery. Here is an informative resource to learn more about Mardi Gras customs and the surprising propriety surrounding its culture that appears at first glance to be so socially transgressive and laissez faire. 

If you have been to New Orleans, or Rio de Janeiro, or Venice, or anywhere with a rich tradition of celebrating the holiday/season of revelry, tonight is your chance to invoke that experience with imagery that will transport us there (if it doesn’t tread too obtrusively on your Lenten fast;) Here’s one interpretation of the fanfare.

Ophelia’s Technicolor G-String: An Urban Mythology
by Susan B. Anthony Somers-Willet 

The air tonight is thick as curry;

like every night this summer I could cut it

with my wine glass, spray it with mace.

Over and over it would heal together

like a wound, follow my click and pace of heels

down Conti Street, St. Ann, Bourbon.
Oh Hamlet, if you could see me now

as I pump and swagger across that stage, cape dripping to the floor,

me in three-inch heels and a technicolor G-string—

you would not wish me in a convent.

They’ve made me a queen here, married me off

to a quarter bag and a pint of gin.
The old men tend bark and splatter, rabid

at each table. I think they stay up all night

just to spite the moon. They bring their diseased

mouths to the French Market in the morning,

sell Creole tomatoes to tourists who don’t know

what they are. Each bald head shines plump and red.
It seems like so long ago that I modeled

for those legs outside of Big Daddy’s—

the ones over the door that swing in, out, in, out

the sculptor made me painted as Mardi Gras.

I thought you might recognize them if you ever passed

with the boys, parading from Abbey to Tavern,

or think them royal feet in need of slippers.
Someday I expect to find you here,

sitting at the table between the first and second rows,

fingering bones or something worse.

And in the end you will throw me a columbine,

light me a Marlboro and take me to a 24-7 where

jukebox light quivers, makes us as thin as ghosts.
But for now, I will dance for the fat man

who sits in your place and sweats his love for me at 3 a.m.,

because only he knows I am Horatio in drag.

Source: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/49544/ophelias-technicolor-g-string-an-urban-mythology

Another option is to focus on the contrast one feels by going from the Laissez les bons temps rouler mode to the following sustained, down-tempo, sacrificial forty days right at the stroke of midnight. I think of Lillian’s prompt last week asking us to reflect on ‘A time to [be born, a time to die]’ but to zoom in on the contrast one would feel at the moment of stark change–both socially and psychologically. Explore what it feels like to feel the shift in social mores and perhaps how individually one’s calendar may not always neatly conform. Juxtaposition is a fitting device to utilize in your poem if you want to illustrate such felt disparity. Consider the tension related in Alan Summers’ haiku:

unlacing the shoe

on his sole

mud from the gravesite

Source: Blithe Spirit Vol. 6 No. 3 (1996); Does Fish-God Know (YTBN Press 2012)

Of course, if Mardi Gras/Carnival/Lent is not part of your culture then try to think of a festival time in opposition to a more contemplative, sober time experienced either collectively or on your own. As for form, you’re free to express yourself in any form you like but, upon my personal discovery of this being an entire Carnival season, a haibun might be especially fitting. 

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Image Credit: heathercalderon.com