Monday, March 22, 2010

Hearing History

Testing, testing, can you guys hear me? I couldn’t think of a snappier way to present sound than a recent trip to southern Louisiana.

In New Orleans the decibel levels flew off charts, right along with history, dog ugly and gorgeous as any I’ve ever heard. Even so, I relished the whole Who Dat and Zydeco music and the waitress named Nicole but pronounced Ne-cole. Her inflection piped out like a shot of New York swirled with Louisiana Creole. I kept asking her questions, well, because I’m irritating that way, and because I adored her voice.

“Why y’all don’t vee zeet more?” she finally said, grinning.

Ne-cole, Ne-cole, Ne-cole. A charming sport if I ever met one.

The sounds of New Orleans were spicy crazy indeed. In the streets were drummers, harmonica players and clacky washboard renditions. People were chattering like squirrels, their shoes popping on sidewalks.

In Café Du Monde, we finally plopped down, legs worn and feet aching from traipsing every inch of the French Quarter and miles beyond. I figured I’d earned myself a beignet, snowed under with powdered sugar and washed down with a café-au lait. Spoons were clinking against glass coffee cups while sugar buzzy conversations exploded, and underneath that, the sigh of our pooped waitress, trying to keep up. A fat tip was in order, which made her smile.

So, two days later, I listened to Creedence Clearwater Revival in the car as we headed to St. Francisville, because it would have been a sin not to hear Born on a Bayou if one is going to hang out with gators and Cajuns. And because I’m a Creedence groupie.

Visiting here is like stepping on ancient, exotic soil. Did you know even history has sound? It wails and screams and laughs here in the wind, the birds and bayous.

Three times now I’ve come to this place, trying to grasp a tragic and mysterious chunk of history. Bits and pieces the land has absorbed and yet shouts through the live oak trees. But none makes sense, nor do I condone it. Meanwhile I fancy the people and appreciate the beauty of place. And I remember those without voices and try to honor them with my presence. My heartfelt interest.

The following poem is based on a cemetery we visited while staying on plantation grounds. It was only one visible record, but there are still many loud secrets. Listen for sound in silence.

Fallen Stars

They have gone silent and cold
yet I heard a woman’s voice
in a crows cackle

But that can’t be
sixteen souls long hushed
resting like whispers in black dirt beds
on loud property
they didn’t have time to praise

Days booming with tears and laughter have passed
no more spring afternoons, summer days
snappy fall breezes
or horizons
blazed with red

They lie silent atop a hill now
ringed by a stone wall
gray and chipped
shaggy cedar to ward off sun
and pine silt carpet for decoration

I traced their names with fingertips
when the sun was blooming
and remembered those I never knew
Marguret, Thomas, Mary, Edward, Sarah, Percival
and the others

Then when night turned to coffee
we walked through crispy grass
flashlights beaming
sky flushed with hot stars
now fallen icy atop the hill.

Bonjour Mes Amis- Good day, my friends. Listen well.


  1. Your vee zeet "sounds" wonderful. And Creedence (I'm a groupie too) and melt in your mouth beignets swept down with cafe-au-lait. The photos, the trees, the music and shoes popping sing of life. While the wails and laughs and shout in the wind whisper of life gone by.

    Lovely poem. Beautiful post.


    Ahh...I feel it. I hear it. I see it. I smell it, New Orleans and Drainy.

  2. Ah, you always know just what to say and how to say it, Ronda. Thank you. This girl soaked up every ounce of everything!

  3. Louisiana had the thickest accent I've ever heard in this country and that's saying something.

    The accent down there is charming! I loved it.

    It's very true that Louisiana is a place of sounds; the accents, the music, the history. Well written, Dorraine.


  4. It is like it's own little world full of charm, Jai. No doubt. A very unique experience every time I go, which also provides gumbo for my writing roux. Thanks...:-)

  5. Excellent post. I particularly enjoyed the poem. It stayed very focused and was therefore atmospheric.

  6. Atmospheric-great word, Dave. Always enjoy it when you stop in. :-)

  7. Once or twice a year I visit two cemeteries: one is out of town, and the other within a town neighborhood.

    The out of town cemetery is bordered by some high bushes; I'm sure there are some zoological creatures there and yet , no sound is heard from that direction. It's as if they respect the dead and cooperate with the silence of the place.

    The other cemetery is bordered by some workshops where tombstones are built, and a school. At the time of my visit it's school vacation so I can only imagine the sounds coming from there. One always hears , however, the sounds of hammers and tools dealing with granite and stone, and it's quite disturbing. I think these places should be accoustically sealed, and the school to be removed to another part of the neighborhood.

    In both cemeteries there are trees, and one could sometimes hear the sound made by the breeze through their leaves and branches.

  8. A cemetery right next to a school is bad enough, but then to have the shop, making tombstones located by the school also-not good.

    I agree with you, Duta. They should move the school. Let children have the joy of life around them.

  9. nice. love new orleans...though it has been a few years...used to go to btan's and get mudbugs...wonderful poem, great character...

  10. Hope you get to visit again soon, Brian. Great place full of atmosphere.

    Mudbugs, yes the kids had those several times. Don't kill me, but I'm not a fan. They are teeny tiny and take a lot effort to peel and eat. Just hand me a lobster! I do love red beans and rice and most everything else Cajun spicy.

    Glad you liked the poem. Thanks much.

  11. Ever so often, like tonight, when it's late and the world is quiet, I have to come by, read your comments and watch your book trailer while listening to its haunting music.

  12. You are a wonder, sweet Ronda. So thankful to have discovered you. :-)

  13. You write so beautifully. I have never been to New Orleans, but I could see, smell and definitely hear it in the music of your writing. Wonderful stuff!

    The Clean White Page

  14. Thanks so much, Tina. I hope you get to experience New Orleans for yourself one day soon!