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Henry Gould

from «July»

Edgar Degas' mother was born in New Orleans; he lived there for a few months in 1872-73, during the Reconstruction period. There are further notes at the end.



H.G. Edgar Degas, a connoisseur
of troubled families, disembarked Oct. 28th
in New Orleans.  René, his wildcat brother
collected bug masks avec tout son coeur

for the grandest bal of all.  1873.
Feverishly, in févriere.  The Missing Link
or Lord of Misrule.  
. . . robed in a brilliantly-hued Egyptian

frock, sparkling with jewels and fringed about
with gold, while at its front he wore a golden
breastplate, from whose burnished surface
the sun
. . .  Due west   from this shrubby point

with a charming-rod in one hand   Federal troops
disguised   Arabian artillery and Egyptian spahis
Boeuf Gras, a steer   decked with apples
daggers and pistols hidden   eager for sport

Thus it is doubly difficult to write of this period
calmly   the oft-encountered apparition of the
darker sharer of his name   the haunted heart
chemical formula exhumed along with the letters

A courtesan, not old and yet no longer young
who shuns the sunlight   that the illusion
Palmyre   Bras-Coupé   (Bluejay, solus
below the Armory)   Nancanou

as Red Clay shrinks downstream   with Zephyr
Listening Crane who   swims in circles now
a message   muffled through the balconies
of water   whirlpools   (holes in the floor,

so to speak)   an underself   (eddies were
rifts and cracks)   deep under the earth, small
and great, but all deep   (terraces, llamas)
hurrying to from that (mother-stream)


Edgar's eyesight worrisome   steamy Louisiana
sun down Esplanade, where the statue simmered
(clay-foot Henry, the Great Compromiser)
a single tear seams down each cheek, slowly

the widow's fallen brow   in the forest
Estelle   miseries of the Middle Ages or
New Orleans reconstruction   Col. Fred Ogden,
shoveleer   a masque for the Beast

Butler did it   in the Haunted House of
Mme Lalaurie Macarty   extremes meet
in depravity   (to St. Louis Cemetery
from the Pyrenees   gored (azure, gules)

by sleek coachman or   wild boar)
What an eventful day for France, may
I not say the world?  And that I should be here
in the midst of it.  This morning my husband

Edna on the bridge    ready to swim forever
mischancing   along the parapet
Edgar   almost stumbling   like a blind
terrapin   into the arms   of an earnest Victor

an arrested marriage   Notre Dame de
de nursery   Code Noir   black arms, white
alabaster babes, and temblors
underneath the matrimonial

domain   here   below Nana's Milky Way
beneath the foursquare cupola in Paris where
Miss LaLa suspends herself   comme un serpent
si elegante   by her teeth   au Cirque Fernando

and the basilica emerges   stronger than before
where she walked   each of the pieces fits
into the whole   starry sky   bulletproof
jackets of   aramidic fibers   arches and ribs

crisscross the interior   120,000 pieces could
be restored by 2001   the remaining six saints
recomposed by Easter   used in other situations
both flexible and light, is five times   more ductile

dovetailed   many miles of cracks   (more than
10,000 people are still living in 375 sq ft metal
container homes)   St. Francis died (laminate
spring-loaded suspension rods) in 1226   remained

legible.   Attests   intact   is the knowledge
(the birthplace   of modern art   from a formal
point of view)   as the foreign master used
oil paints in the frescoes of six apostles

in the right transept.  There:  a prairie grid
of iron crossroad overlaid   over greed priority
as the hand of Degas   Republican Party
mingled these oils   rigorous and proud

Railsplitter looming to the north   with men
to the right and women left   quadroon
maroon   octaroon   mulatto   miscegenation
they called it   beside Lake Pontchartrain

Edgar was his brother's guest   heat, glare
made his eyes blur   but he works a little
hand steady   in the Cotton Office
distant his eye   from the surly parade

distance in the eye   like a Mississippi spar
hand steady   mingling the heavy oils
flickering awhile   dusk   accumulating
like dark gilt of a wooden frame   wraps

the wharf in a wave-embrace   or
armature of hieroglyphs   figure of Man
Woman   swims   in the dull mirror
a Venetian courtesan   en pleine mer


The distance, the distance   LaFarge
in Paradise   or Bluejay   with eye
in hand   like a Maid of Orleans
oils merging   crowd converging

rage at the feet of Henry Clay
moist in the delta   steamboats like
weary swans (Mississippi mobbed
for weapons) by the sultry lake

and the still canal   Degas
with his hand in the frame (dead
guys and   fading Creole ladies)
going blind   sagged

into a catenary arc   one thin thread
one arching foot one   drooping wing
one smile   pensive   painted   drew
time into gypsy Cirque  (odd wreath



G.W. Cable loosens the reins
the most hated man in New Orleans
a dwarf with oversize head and (lonelier,
loneliest)   imagines Honoré Grandissime

the two of them together   Honoré & Honoré
in a shaded, faded   Crescent City mirror
free man of color and   Creole half-brother
one loves Palmyre   the other Aurora

shuffles the deck   plays with the fetishes
now here, now there   little waxen figurines
for telling fortunes of   frozen cavaliers
and ladies   waiting   in porcelain   shifts

a button here, there   upstream, down
like Larry Bannock   all year   marshalling
his costume (une sous-chemise toute de la laine
avec un pistolet modeste)   as Grand Chieftain

O how I hate   ces ornements pesants et vains
the iron mask   o'er Caesar's bronze breastplate
Egyptian hawk- and lion-headed gods   downstream
the head of Orpheus   (harmonious knave)

into the pyramid or   chute of swamps   beyond
the Gulf itself goes   singing everything together
a multitudinous moist mudpie   thewed
with desirable flesh and dubious

allegiances   these scraps of ancestry   all cloudy
with plaçage   high snobbery (a form of animal
instinct)   a private club   extruding laminate
masquerade of seasoned merriment  (in cold blood)

O heavy festival of farewell   festive dusk
of the flesh   bones gathering in Royal Street
for Unification or   the why then Ile fit you
Cause   of loyal sons agin the looming scud

of gray clouds from the north and west
washing across the empty air and the dim
mortuary light   suffusing the midway
crossroads where   bent telegraph poles sew

up the prairie with   black catenary arcs
of lonesome lines   like a grid   of aqueducts
(a very different grid   there   at the spooky
crossroad   something other than these crass

manipulations   (caste of 7 bones
or armor-plated   interest   monopolies
of gilded pride   masks of silver plaster
molded to the face or   bogus coat of arms)

iron rail-splitter sepulchral voice
like a cicada speaking to an audience
of treetops only or   a cold new meadow
of distant stars   very distant   severe and

severed   like the iron shell
of a freight train lifted   into its horn
into the wide spaces   north
south   west   like the coracle of Charon

for you   faithful   fevered sons   of rebellion
as to those confirmed to the painted memory
and its desire   to protect these womenfolk
and widows comes   this puny Presbyterian

scrivener   loosens his cat-o'-nine-tail arch
and poisoned penciled-in thin tongue
against his own   Confederacy   trolling rogue
and bastard son of a mulatto blue-bellied char-

bored and unmarriageable Jane, no doubt
drifts his lax hand like a mellow doctored crow
across the sweaty brow of Honoré (wrecked wicked
double-dealer in their smokestacked, turbid

flesh)   Vale   Vale
from the Cabildo to the Esplanade
from balcony to Congo Square   Naples
to Royal Street   a catwalk, mon élève

along the headrail of St. Louis   to the Nile
cockfights and jealousy   upon the ramparts
duels sworn   gloves thrown   snarls of contempt
and roars of formalized hilarity   in lines

beside the snaking riverbed they go
King Rex   soaring for a day   a Caesar
seated by his Natchez Princess
holding hands   a plastered chariot

of candled dalliance like this   can never die
Huzza   Huzza   pickpockets of the Pickwick Club
and other strutters flared in buckled hue
hobnob with bobcat wits   veridical

phantoms of the Creole crème
bedecked and fulgent in the evening sun
observe that Cable   and prepare a noose
for hobbling his fabled cautionary limp

in murk   the linch-pin for his aspic
Afric mince   the loup of loops
hung delicately from pools
of eyes of   quadroon balls   wee Caspar

secret hawser for our mooring
in the well-head   well-hung   dark
where we must play the manly cavalier
or die by a swarthy word   in a little room

Thus they did mutter for his painful
painted phrase   coagulant   merging   framed
by the muddy banks   like a singular seraph
in a gondola   with trump   of feral baptism

for Florence or   damnation by the levée
floats in supine water   like the air
an eagle   out of live-oak moss   a ray
from the eye   penetrates your sultry valley

raptor in excess or   meek and homing
pigeon at the foot   of Henry Clay
out of the rancid oil of   anger lake
blind loss   blind rage   despair   your

hemoglobin armory of iron   hope
is fortitude   all fortified   forevermore
and cables held   your coracle   firmly
planted in the river now   O pioneer

of liberty   your watercolor of lush vines
and scented undergrowth   bears rind
of ancient kindness   where horses thunder
ghosts in the air   your red   and central nerve




(Hilaire Germaine) Edgar Degas, whose mother was born in New Orleans, visited that city for a few months over the winter of 1872-73, where his brother and other relatives were deeply involved both in the Mardi Gras carnival and in the (sometimes violent) struggles between Creole/post-Confederate factions and the federally-imposed Reconstruction government of that time. Degas did a number of paintings and sketches while there; an interesting monograph on the subject (from which some of this poem's material is drawn) is «Degas in New Orleans», by Christopher G. Benfey (Knopf, 1997).

George Washington Cable was one of the foremost Southern U.S. writers of the 19th-century. His stories, collected in «Old Creole Days» and his novel «The Grandissimes», depict his native New Orleans with subtlety and penetration (mixed with some sentimentality). He was reviled in his home town for supporting integration and exposing some of the hypocrisies of Louisiana culture, but his work was essential for the writers who succeeded him, from Kate Chopin to William Faulkner.

Henry Gould lives in Providence, RI, where he co-edits «Nedge». He co-edited & published an anthology in honor of poet/translator Edwin Honig titled «A Glass of Green Tea - With Honig» (available from Fordham University Press; the Contents list is available at the EPC site at Buffalo at
His poems & essays have appeared in «non», «Talisman», «Witz», and elsewhere. His "neo-sonnet" sequence «Island Road» can be found online at «Mudlark» (
A book-length "countertop-epic" «Stubborn Grew» was published early in 2000 by Spuyten Duyvil Press, at


J A C K E T  # 9 
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