A Train They Call The City

I find it impossible to talk about New Orleans without resorting to dualisms.  I went there too early, or I arrived too late.  It is equal parts darkness and light.  There is the city above and the city below; New Orleans before Katrina, New Orleans after.  It’s my favorite place in the world – a soggy stamp of soil in which I am both my best self and my worst.  I’ve written more about the city than any place other than Indiana, which is very meaningful.  Consider this:  I’ve lived in North Carolina fourteen years and never written about it once.  I’ve never felt I fully understood it.  But New Orleans?  I look at that ruin and the ruin looks right back at me.

My friend Leslie (whose Emerson paintings you’ve seen) had a new show going up at the Le Mieux gallery, and the reception was on Saturday.  I flew in Friday night to surprise her.  In this case, I went too soon.  I was still weak; I was recovering from injuries.  In general I was extremely wobbly but trust me – it was a patented Haven Kimmel move, making that kind of trip just to surprise a friend at a reception.  The move is also known as ‘idiotic.’  But let me start at the beginning:

I tend to make friends on every airline flight I take.  This happens even though I consider myself a misanthrope who only wants to be left alone.  On the flight from Raleigh to Atlanta I made friends with a lovely woman named Kathy, who probably found herself surprised to be chatting so freely with me (given that she, too, might be a person who just wants to be left alone).  Then in the Atlanta airport I had one of the loveliest experiences of my life.  I arrived at my gate early – I was the first person there.  I had just put my bags down when a woman in her early 70s came up to me, flustered, asking a question I couldn’t quite understand.  It turned out she wanted to know if she was at the right gate to go to Rome, and then on to Tehran.  It looked to me as if her gate had been changed at some point (she was right to be confused), so I told her to wait with our things and I’d find out.  I finally tracked down an agent who confirmed the flight to Rome would be leaving from my gate a few hours after I left for New Orleans, so I went back and joined the woman. 

Her name was Noshin, and I won’t repeat the whole of our conversation, which lasted two hours, but it was nothing short of miraculous.  For some reason we understood one another perfectly, even about very nuanced subjects, like the estrangement of a family member, or the way Americans have what Europeans consider to be a deeply sick relationship with pets.  I waited a long time to ask her about religion, but since I knew she was from a city just outside of Tehran (Shiraz) I asked if she was a Shiite.  Her eyes got wide and she said, “You know some of Muslims?”  I couldn’t help but laugh – if she only knew how much studying of Islam I had to do in seminary.  I said, “One of my favorite poets is Hafiz.”  Now, Blog Babies, if you’ll look up at the top of page, under my name, you’ll see that my quotation is from Hafiz, and has been since I took down the Twain quotation about billiards destroying my naturally sweet disposition.  My mother gave me I Heard God Laughing, Poems of Hope and Joy about a year ago.  Hafiz’s poems are called ‘renderings,’ and these were translated by Daniel Ladinsky.  I can think of only three or four other books of poems I have read so often, or so obsessively.  I’ve been carrying this particular volume around for a year, starting at the beginning and reading the whole of it again and again.  Hafiz wrote in the 14th century, and in addition to being a poet he was also a mystic; legend has it that he memorized the whole of the Koran.  If I understand what I’ve read correctly, the word ‘Hafez’ now refers to The One Who Has Memorized The Whole Of The Koran.  But my Persian is sketchy.   Here is the rendering from which the line above appears:

 

Your Beautiful Parched, Holy Mouth

 

A poet is someone

Who can pour Light into a spoon,

Then raise it

To nourish

Your beautiful parched, holy mouth.

 

Here I must be careful or I’ll quote the entire book.  At any rate, Noshin’s eyes widened and she said, “Sitting here, you are say Hafiz to me!  You are knowing Hafiz, is miracle you!”  I told her that yes, it was a miracle, but Hafiz would say it’s the laughter of God, nothing to do with me.  We talked about some of our favorite verses, and when it was time for me to board the plane we were both in tears.  She took my hands and said, “We are family.  You are family in me, and because . . . you, you heart is open.”  I said, “Your heart is open; you are the generous one.  I could have been sitting here alone with my exact same heart, but if you hadn’t come along, I would have stayed silent.”  I will remember her forever.

On the flight to New Orleans I sat next to a man named Al.  I won’t tell you the problem Al was having but it was serious, and he was a worried man.  We talked and talked and finally I said to him, “Al, as a Quaker my dearest wish in this world is that I might be given the right words at the right time, so if you’d just give me a couple minutes to think and listen, maybe I’ll get lucky.”  So we sat there in silence and I listened and listened, and then I turned to him, and said, “Everything is going to change.”  Now that doesn’t mean anything – it’s almost entirely meaningless, but his eyes got wide and he said, “God above, yes it is.  I know exactly what you mean.”  Which was good, because I didn’t.  I said, “You are treating this situation as if you aren’t radically free, but you are.  I wonder if you’re afraid of the price of that freedom?  That’s okay, as long as you remember that you may hate the chains, but they’re still yours.”  What a brave person Al was.  He was a 25-year veteran of the Marine Corps, a deeply devoted husband and father to four children.  But there was no ego in our conversation.  He was as manly as it’s possible to be, and we talked not as equals but as comrades.  I won’t say more about the decision he made, but it was a good one, and it freed him.

*

I stayed with two of my dearest friends, Bryan and Jeff (whose full name is Jefferson, and he is precisely that elegant) at their MOST GORGEOUS B&B ON THE PLANET, The Block-Keller House. 

 

If you’re going to New Orleans and have plans other than sleeping in your own vomit, this is the most perfect B&B in the city.  It’s breathtakingly beautiful, there are two sweet dogs, and Bryan and Jeff are the kindest, funniest, most perfect hosts who ever lived.  They are also never in your face or your business.  Look just at the parlor:

As I said earlier, I went too early.  But at least I was with two people who didn’t care, and were happy to accommodate my wreckage.  On the first night we went out to dinner and we were full of joy – here is a photograph. 

Shortly after, we returned to Bryan’s car to find one of the rear windows smashed in and his mp3 player stolen.  Now in most cities that would be a shocking moment, but in New Orleans we cursed, brushed aside enough glass for Bryan to sit down, and drove home.

The next day I slept like a damaged person.  Then I got up like a damaged person and got dressed to go to Leslie’s show.  All the galleries in the Art District have openings on the same night (and this year there were also openings on Magazine Street).  The streets are closed to traffic and bars are set up where one would ordinarily drive:  this is the height of civility.  We wove in and out of hordes of people, all of whom knew Bryan and Jeff, and finally made it to the gallery.  Leslie’s new show, Patterns of Dreaming, is shocking and grand – Bryan said that what were being called paintings are really installation pieces – and I won’t describe them yet because the photographs aren’t up on the gallery’s website.  They must be seen to be understood.  I was overwhelmed with covetousness.  At first I thought covetousness was making me woogy, but then I thought maybe I was hungry, so we left there and went to one of my favorite restaurants in New Orleans, Muriel’s.  (You should look Muriel’s up online, www.muriels.com, and take the virtual tour.  Make sure you see the séance room.)  The menu was superlative, and as we waited for our entrees I turned a paler and paler green, and then our meals were delivered, and I said to Bryan, “I’m going to throw up now,” and I walked to the bathroom and did so.  That was nice.  That was a first for me.  But did my friends act as if I’d ruined their lovely dinner?  No.  We simply boxed everything up, sat on broken glass, and went home.

I have nearly 25 years of history with New Orleans, all of it interesting.  I’ve met some of the great loves of my life there, and I can’t think of any place on earth that feels as much like home.  Bizarre, unimaginable things happen to me every time I step foot in the city.  We are so much alike that I don’t dare move there.  That’s as much as I’ll say; I’ll leave the rest to your imagination.  Oh, but I will say this:  look up the great singer/songwriter Dayna Kurtz, who has a flawless song about New Orleans on her album Another Black Feather.  But really you should buy all of her records, for the sake of your happiness.  And Bryan and Jeff, if you read this, my cabdriver was the son of Myrl D’Arcy, whom you surely knew from her gallery on Royal.  He told me to ask you if you knew Ruthie the Duck Girl died.  And also Bill, the multi-millionaire cokehead in the Quarter, has been banned by all but two cabs because he’s so deranged he eats roast beef and lets it dribble all down his front, and he constantly allows his pants to fall down. 

Here are are a couple photos from Mardi Gras.  The first is with my friend Tim:

Finally, one last New Orleans poem.  The first time my mother visited Amsterdam she came home and declared it ‘a sinister city.’  She had her own reasons for doing so.  I know many, many people who feel the same way about New Orleans.  This is another post-Katrina poem, written after I went back for the first time after the storm. 

~~~~~~~~~

Danse Macabre

 

The change is subtle

in those cemetery breezes,

or sitting across the table

from the old woman

you thought loved you

who suddenly staggers

you with her vicious

appraisal of your failures.

 

The change is barely noted

when the storefront goes empty,

the subversive weekly paper

tumbles down the street,

the car radio finds only one station

and it is broadcasting Hell.

The night is dark

 

darker, the streetlights fade,

you are lost and losing, age

pressing hard against your spine,

and you think this is the only way

to dance.  And then

 

one night in a hotel in a burnt-

out city you sit on the sofa with a woman

you have waited for half-a-decade,

and she slips her foot into your hand,

she says stay one more hour, she pulls

the sheets from the corners of the bed, you

wrap your body around hers and she is

 

a stem, you are the wind, you bend

her, lift her, but looking back the

night was so subtle you never saw

it coming; she will die, the golden

light of Amsterdam is no less macabre

than of New Orleans, but if one had to choose.

If one could choose.

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Published in: on October 7, 2008 at 10:47 pm  Comments (108)  

108 Comments

  1. Whew! Tour De Force. That photo of you at Mardi Gras is the berries, literally. Exquisite!

    I’ve never been to New Orleans, but I always feel like there is a piece of my soul there and someday I plan to go find it.

    Love the poem.

    Nice to see you back!

  2. beautiful… this post, your experience with this beautiful woman and brave man, these poems, you. beautiful.

  3. Yes…absolutely! What a charmed life you lead, and what a spirit you possess. God’s instrument?

  4. Do recall that I have many, many charmed experiences, and then I spend hours lying about with my friends, posting gay haiku on my blog. I have to recuperate.

  5. Do that. We’ll carry on.

    I read the gay haiku out loud to my husband, and I recited a few from memory to my mother, but they were not nearly as amused as me.

  6. Every time I get to, “Wait, no — that’s Stephen,” I nearly weep.

  7. Me too…that’s when I started convulsing. Mom just got quiet, then changed the subject.

  8. Your mom. She’s going to just love me, I’ll bet. “Oh, aren’t you the heathen who posts obscenities on the World Wide Web?”

  9. Well, she’d never tell you that! Seriously, she’s a fabulous person…she just gets a wee bit…uncomfortable? Shall we say? About certain things.

  10. to truly live life open to opportunities is a rare and valiant gift. A first smile can connect two people through eternity. Sometimes meetings are just continuances of an unforgotten connection. I love that – that you have people in your life for the exact amount of time you need, a moment, an hour, a day, a few months, years and years, maybe a next life.

    Maybe it is like blogging, we can get to know each other without the entire “courtship” phase of friendship.

    my thoughs are long poofed away into the night air and I can’t pull them back to earth . . . need to go sit in the rain and listen to the creek flowing by. tibetan practices give me that molecular dissintigration feeling . . .

  11. my mom is all about denial . . . that river it runs through her heart.

  12. Wow Sher…I love the way you took that Stuart Smalley phrase and turned it into a little poem.

  13. I’m so glad you’re back…I joined the George rally today at 3 EST…and, of course, it worked. George, for all his poetic, fantastical ways, strikes me as an unusually capable and competent man. We should all just do what he tells us. Let’s just hope that he continues to use his power for good. 🙂

    I came across this while dipping into Emerson today and thought of you:

    “We know that the secret of the world is profound, but who or what shall be our interpreter, we know not. A mountain ramble, a new style of face, a new person, may put the key into our hands. Of course the value of genius to us is in the veracity of its report. Talent may frolic and juggle; genius realizes and adds.”

    Thank you for always realizing and adding to every situation you’re in and then being brave enough to report back to us. As for me, I’m going to keep up the 3 EST ritual until you give the all clear.

  14. What a breath-taking poem, Haven. Yours and the mystic’s. The spoon and the stem. The wind and the thirst. The light and the dark. The silenced voice replaced by the broadcast of hell. The loved one who judges. A furtive hour and eternity. I’ll be chewing on that for awhile.

    I don’t know what I think about post-Katrina New Orleans. Sometimes I think it a metaphor of post-911 America.

    That story would go something like this:

    The morning after Katrina, I talked to a stunned manager of the electric co-op in Bay St. Louis. “George,” he said, “It took us 60 years to build up this system and it took six hours to take it out.”

    Within a couple of weeks, the crews there replaced about 100,000 utility poles and restrung miles and miles of wire. It was nothing short of a miracle.

    But here’s the kicker. And this is something I observed barely a year ago in the Biloxi area. The electricity came back, but the power was diminished; the lights worked, but the area was dimmer.

    —–
    I liked your stories about the people you met on the plane and in Atlanta. Right place, right time, right people.

    I am like you in that I get to airports and the gates way early. Too early. I like it that way, but it does have its perils. Sometimes, because I am already there, people think I know something. And they will ask me questions as if I know something because I was there first.

    Once, on a flight on a small turboprop from Fort Wayne to Toledo, at night and in a snowstorm, my seatmate grabbed my wrist in fear. I babbled on for an hour, drawing on my experiences in covering airplane crashes to patiently explain every change in sound, the turbulence, the principles of flight. I don’t think what I said eased her fear. It was how I said it. Matter-of-factly. This is normal. Bad weather is what these strong planes thrive in.

    I don’t mind. I like to talk.

    Once though, years ago during a turbulent time in my own life, I remember unburdening my heart to a stranger while on a flight from DC to Indianapolis. Things I couldn’t hardly say aloud to myself in private, I said to a stranger while 38,000 feet above Ohio. When I got off the plane, nothing had changed. Outwardly. My problems remained as they were when we took off. Inwardly. I was different. I had made myself understood to a stranger. God, how I needed that.

  15. George…I think we were all waiting for you to chime in!

  16. Sandra: I’m blushing. That was a nice thing to say. Competence and capability are not my long suits. But what a quote from the big E! A lot of wisdom in that while I am still in my post-debate funk.

    About the 3 o’clock thing…it just seemed like a nice thing to do. Sorta like hanging around after the party and helping the host do the dishes.

  17. Now that I have seen pictures of you, I’d have to say your daughter could very well be your twin! You both are very beautiful!

  18. Haven, I always look forward to your posts post-flight, as I love stories of profound connection and you seem, quite frequently, to have them, post-flight. What it must have meant to Noshin to feel “apprehended” by a westerner, and not in the more common sense. — You looked beautiful, beautiful, and I envy you the show, as your friend Leslie is one of my favorite artists since seeing her work here (you are one true-blue friend). And the Block-Keller House! That facade! Those ceilings! Those perfectly-proportioned rooms! Those gorgeous hosts, who clearly adore you! (sidebar: I, too, have been repeating, “wait, no, that’s Stephen” at stoplights and exploding with laughter, neighboring motorists be damned.)

    “…I had made myself understood by a stranger.” All that that implies just … shook me. It’s those times when I fail to make myself understood to those I’m most intimate with after rivers and oceans of precisely chosen words, in terms as neutral as possible in order to avoid detonation, that a stranger hearing me is so comforting. Sort of a sidebar confirm from the divine that, “no, you are not clinically insane, after all.” — Everybody loves George.

  19. p.s. Danse Macabre gave me chills. I do hope that your poems will find their way into a handy book someday soon. With Leslie Staub illustrating.

  20. Haven, I have a love hate relationship with Hafiz. I love his words, especially the God is Laughing poem, but a man from my former faith community used to use Hafiz’s love poems, during worship services even, to sort of justify his cheating on his lovely, kind-hearted wife. He would sit in front of everyone and recite Hafiz until one day it no longer worked. When he couldn’t take himself anymore, he took a bottle of sleeping pills, walked into Lake Michigan and let the waves and the rip current swallow him.

    I know it’s not the fault of Hafiz’s, but the whole experience has tainted the words of Hafiz. It sort of gives me the feeling of an exposed light bulb – that if I reach out I might get burned, which literally happened to me recently (the light bulb burn I mean).

    So, God is Laughing but at whom is he laughing? Or, is God laughing at the foolishness of our being human?

  21. Under these circumstances I always think of my grandmother sayin “It’s no laughing matter, but it’s no matter if you laugh.”

    And you could always try substituting Rumi — Hafiz won’t mind much.

  22. I have never been to New Orleans physically, but I feel as though I have through your writing, Haven. I was scheduled to go to a conference there but then Katrina struck. It is one of a few cities that is a curiosity to me and that I hope to discover someday, perhaps once the kids have gone off to start their own lives and I am looking for adventure.

    You are a treasure, Haven, as are all of you here. It is raining in Nashville. We need the rain, but it makes me sleepy. The paper has not arrived yet, for about the 5th time in just more than a week. That makes me agitated even though I know I could easily look it up online. Still, there is something about flipping the pages and getting the newsprint on my fingers first thing in the morning.

  23. I’ve been saying that New Orleans is my favorite city in the world for ten years, since the first time I went there. People usually look at me like I have six heads or somthing (or, if they’re my friends, they nod kindly but sort of condescendingly). I haven’t been there in over 5 years now. I’m positively itching to go back. Thank you for reminding me how amazing that city is, and also for reminding me that there really are still people in the world writing thoughtful and beautiful poetry. Sometimes I forget that.

  24. Where is the gay haiku? Is there a blogging connection I am missing? Laughing aloud at stoplights is mother’s milk to me.

  25. Good lord – blogging is new to me. Lose the last name.

  26. Haven,

    Your encounters with travel of late, are pretty darn
    amazing. Thanks so much for sharing. Now, in my
    best Gladys Kravitz voice, “How’s the noggin?”
    My apologies for being intrusive but I must know that you are truly on the mend. You are an extension of so much, to so many.

  27. I was so captivated by your description of the wonderful places you went, and the wonderful people you met, that I think I forgot to show proper sympathy to your delicate condition. You know of course we have all been very, dramatically concerned. Please, sleep ALOT, eat some soup, sleep some more.

  28. I always feel like I’ve stepped out of time when I go to New Orleans — or maybe I step into real time …? My experiences there always seem so serendipitous. When I read about Cassie’s trip to New Orleans in “Something Rising” I laughed with joy and recognition — it just seemed like all the people and moments she encountered were gathered purposely just for her. It happened to me, too, in New Orleans.

  29. Well you can have both, at least musically, because of course as you know Dayna Kurtz also has a great song about Amsterdam, a raw but majestic anthem called ‘Amsterdam Crown’, which thanks to the magic (or at least bootleggery) of YouTube you all can hear here:

  30. The actual train called the City of New Orleans is scheduled to arrive here each morning from NOLA at 6:10, but is always at least two hours late, which just seems right.

  31. Lordy, how I love N’awlins. I haven’t been back there since just before Katrina. My best friend took a two-week hiatus from her job to travel to New Orleans the spring after the hurricane to help re-build houses. She is a much better person than I could ever hope to be. She came back slightly broken by the sights, but uplifted by the unity.

    There is something about that city that just gets inside you. Linda & Kate-You MUST go sometime! There is beauty and tragedy everywhere in that city. I love Muriels, Acme Oyster House and Corner Oyster Bar. Now I’m craving a Po’ Boy and you just CAN’T find a good Po’Boy in Ohio.

    Haven-Welcome back! We missed you.

    Laissez les bons temps rouler!

  32. Having lived in the Florida “Big Bend” now for 15 years, I am ashamed that I never made it to N.O. — not once — until a few months ago. The Missus (who works for the state Innocence Project) was attending their annual conference or whatever it’s called, and I trailed along in her wake.

    Few activities do I love more than walking around a city. Since Toni was preoccupied during the day, I felt at home at once.

    Never did have a beignet, though. On the other hand, I don’t think I even knew about Muriel’s until reading this, so next time, eh?

    (Oh, and frabjous day — Iodine arrived yesterday. Soon as I hit “The End” in the book I’m currently reading, which should be in a day or two, I know what I’m moving on to next…!

  33. haven, first of all, i am glad you are doing ok and i hope you feel less ill now. i am sure your friends all loved seeing you, even if you were not feeling 100%

    the story of meeting noshin in the airport touched my heart. i truly and completely believe that everything happens for a reason-.-even if it is sometimes difficult to see a the time. what a magical experience.

    i am not sure if i have ever posted this or not–but i wanted to share something that happened to me that remains the biggest compliment i have ever received in my lifetime.

    i was living in somerville, ma (boston) on a street that was house, house, house, house–they were only separated by the driveways between them. i could hear the phones ring, the dryer buzz, and the alarm sound from the houses of my neighbors on each side.

    as it were, i never got to know these neighbors, but one day i was walking up the street (i had to find parking) and a young woman came running out of the house next door to where i was renting. she asked me if i lived there. i replied, yes.

    she went on to tell me that her father had passed earlier in the week (i had seen the ambulance) and that she wanted to thank me. with tears in her eyes, she told me that his bedroom was right across from our living room. every night when my husband and i were in there, her father would listen to me laugh.

    she told me that my laughter (i have a very big laugh) made him smile when there was nothing left for him to smile about. she continued with her gratitude, and i couldn’t believe i had never taken the time to meet this man. by the end of the conversation, we were both in tears. i didn’t even know his name, let alone the fact that he was very ill.

    yet, i still feel this connection to him. his daughter told me that he would perk up when i came home from work in anticipation of my laugh.

    everything happens for a reason. haven, noshin was meant to meet you. for sure. that was such a moving story and i am so happy you got to enjoy such a meaningful experience with a person who was a stranger when you woke up that morning.

  34. stephsulzback…. i am awed by that story. thank you for sharing.

  35. that is an awesome story, Steph.

  36. I think we should have the first international gathering of Haven’s Blog Babies in New Orleans.

  37. just downloaded all of dayna kurtz’s albums… wow. reminds me of leonard cohen and eliza gilkyson at the same time.

  38. There’s so much here that’s it’s difficult to respond to it all. Lovely story, Steph. Haven, that picture of you entwined with your friends is so beautiful, and the one of you in costume is absolutely stunning. SO GLAD you are continuing to feel better and I echo the request of others that you take good care of yourself until you’re completely out of the woods. Please don’t hesitate to request the shortbread cure. I haven’t been to N.O. since before the disaster. It truly is a city of dualities and I have conflicted feelings about it as a result. The first time I visited there my friend John picked me up at the airport in his van, with a bottle of champagne on ice which he served me in a plastic cup. Upon my questioning the wisdom of drinking while driving he explained that it was legal to drink alcohol while driving (or anywhere, really) as long as it was out of plastic cups, not glass, because glass and cans were considered unsafe and caused too much littering. Indeed, the city was full of little milk and fruit shake shops where one could stop and buy alcoholic “health” drinks along the way, all served in plastic recycleable cups. The other things that struck me were the huge flying cockroaches and the graveyards full of coffins preserved above ground because the water level is so high that if buried they float up above the grass. Those were my least favortite things. My favorites were the friendly faces, the great restaurants, and most of all the stunning architecture. Truly charming.

  39. George, ah — you always get right to my heart.

  40. Particles — That’s one of the oddest stories I’ve ever heard. Your minister employed Hafiz IN FRONT OF HIS CONGREGATION to justify an affair? I would venture that he could have used any poet, particularly any mystic. As it happens Hafiz uses romantic language to refer to God (as Christians do with Jesus) — what a mess. The poor wife. Hafiz would not approve.

  41. Hallelujah for Steph’s Big Laugh!!

  42. Forgive the puns and wordplay…my total pleasure!

  43. Hi Mama! The noggin is fine. I don’t have to go back to the doctor until mid-November. I’m really just recovering from the after-effects of flinging myself around violently, the way MELINDA used to do with me as a child.

    HEY!

  44. I echo the sentiments..thank you Steph for that wonderful story and keep up the hearty laughing, and thank you Haven for the airport story…I had to rush and look up Hafiz and now I have one more on my list to read….neverending anticipation!
    Oh yeah, and the Haven’s Blog Babies in New Orleans?
    I’m so there.

  45. Didn’t Elvis speak to this condition in All Shook Up?

  46. Hello, all! I’ve been lurking for some time, enjoying all your wit, humor, and good natured interactions, and I wanted to share my love of New Orleans, too. I have visited the city many, many times, and I feel like I leave a bit of my soul there every time. I adore New Orleans – the food, the culture, the history, architecture, the art, and most of all, the people. We have met so many kindred spirits in that lovely city! On our last trip this summer, a wonderful psychic in Lafayette Square named Lola told me that she saw my deceased grandmother at my shoulder, which was the most wonderful notion I had ever heard. I half fell in love with Lola at that moment.

    Haven, I am thrilled to have this avenue for contacting you, and I adore that you are so available to us! I don’t know if you remember, but we met last year at Earlham when you read and spoke. I was the gal with the hives – ha-ha! I was so over the moon to be in the same room with you and meet you, I don’t even remember the details – or the name! – of the event, but the photo is forever enshrined on my myspace page! You and your mother were positively delightful, and I am a forever fan of BOTH of you. Your books have moved me beyond words, and I look forward to reading Iodine very soon!

  47. Sandra, sigh. Emerson is perfection. Thank you.

  48. Stephanie, hi! I hope your hives went away. I gave the keynote address and the subject was . . . let me think. Yes — how Quakerism prepares one for a life as a writer. Mom is always delightful; she and I should start a vaudeville act.

    Great to hear from you again.

  49. You know, George, it could have been Elvis who did this to me, now that I think about it.

  50. JohnM, is there anything more sublime in the world than hearing Dayna live? OH SWEET LITTLE INFANT SAVIOR. In “Amsterdam Crown” when she says, I’ve got everything I need right between my teeth, don’t want to go back now, they’re burning garbage in the streets. Chills.

  51. I’ve been fortunate to hear/see Dayna three times, and they were all essentially private concerts that involved you (The Cave, John’s party, the wedding reception). She’s so awesome.

  52. Stephsulzbach, your story is so moving! It made me remember something else Lola in New Orleans told me – she told me to always remember that we have a far greater impact on others than we can ever realize. I interpreted that to do my best to be a positive force in the world, as much as I can. I took it as a reminder to always do my best to be forgiving, to be kind, and to look for the best in others. I really believe that you just never know, you know?

  53. steph – gorgeous story. that is definately one of those tuck away in a be-ribboned memory box items.

  54. Haven, when I noticed the title to this thread, the train they call the city, it made me think of dear, funny Steve Goodman. As some of you know, I have musician crushes (for both women and men I might add) but Steve Goodman was one of my biggest ones early on. While some people can remember where they were and what they were doing when Kennedy was shot, etc. I can remember the exact moment I heard that Steve had succumbed to the cancer that was in his blood. I was driving my old Datsun B210 on Rt. 66 in northern VA headed home from work to my apartment in Centreville. What a sad day made even sadder by the realization that I would never get to see him play live. But then, we always have his music. I have a few cds in his car and I swear when i listen to The Dutchman it makes me cry every time.

  55. …a few cds in my car. Not his car. Because Steve died before cds. I had his albums then that I taped onto cassettes that I played in a little cassette player that sat on the floor of my car. Ah. Memories.

  56. Steph…what a STORY! That right there is a reason to get up in the morning…

  57. stephanie, hi it’s steph (stephsulzbach): i have found that i try to live my life as i do when i know people are watching, even when i don’t think anyone is. must admit, it doesn’t always work–but it’s true, you just never know….

    thanks to everyone for the feedback on that story. it was one of those “ahhhhhhhhhh” this is what it’s all about” moments. it is up there with my wedding day and the day my son was born. it is so special to me and i’d wager our paths will cross again….somehow, somewhere, sometime. haven’s moment in the airport made me think of it.

  58. George is this you or just some guy that wishes he where you?
    http://www.linkedin.com/in/georgestuteville
    I’ve had a screaming head ache for days, so nothing smartallicky to say. Susan G

  59. Delonda, I do NOT want you to take Steph’s story and run with it, so to speak.

    Here’s what Mom used to do: she has these little dogs, very small, like a pack of barking hamsters, and she used to let them out in the yard where they would make with the yackety-yack hour after hour. One night I said to her, “Delonda, look at that old man sitting in his window next door. How do you think he feels, listening to this unholy racket?” Now in truth the man next door was probably already dead. I never once saw the man move. Nonetheless, I believed it best to act AS IF he could hear. Mom’s reply was, “Oh, he enjoys the company.” I’m not making that up. The woman will just say ANYTHING.

  60. Susan G., that is TOTALLY our George! The mention of ‘golf’ in the profile is a dead giveaway.

  61. haven, “oh he enjoys the company.” laugh out loud funny.

  62. Our George is such a cool dude. George, I want to sit next to you at dinner when we have our Haven’s Blog Babies get-together in New Orleans. How many can Bryan and Jeff accomodate?

  63. I feel like I’ve slept in every room of Bryan and Jeff’s house, and still couldn’t possibly say how many rooms there are. A LOT. Somebody go to http://www.blockkellerhouse.com and look. I’m too weary.

  64. Hello.
    I recently found your site and wished I had found it sooner. I LURVE your books. The language and writing always makes me so overwhelmingly happy, like the warm liquid sun on a fall day. I just feel so inspired and thoughtful. I am always sad when the book ends. But now, I have more of your words to read every week!
    It has inspired to me to read poetry again, to be meaningful again. In high school, I read Kierkegaard and Thurber, Millay, Gibrahn and anything I could get my hands on to make myself think. Then a child and full time job and now I read what I call “smut”, bodice rippers. Is that phrase allowed on this intellectual blog? The story is easy, the characters light and I can skim read with only half a mind. But when your books come out, I hole myself up and slow my reading down to savor word after beautiful word. It is a struggle, but so worth it.
    So thank you for your books, and your blog. I’m off to get a book of poetry from the library.
    (Gee, I just read what I wrote and I sound like a stalker. I’m not, honest.)

  65. Has there been a discussion, about anyone’s favorite or least favorite characters in Haven’s books, already?. i miss alot between poor health and cat box shoveling.
    Susan g
    PS I see Racheal outside Haven’s house in a bush, don’t ask how I know….

  66. Haven, it was very odd, and a messy situation. He wasn’t THE minister (he was defrocked), but he was having the affair with the minister. He was a co-leader. That didn’t seem too weird because I was a leader as well. The “church” was a strange little place based on Christian Mysticism and Integral spirituality. But, they both went over board with the Ken Wilber stuff. They didn’t actually come right out and say they were using Integral principles, Hafiz, and other mystics to justify their behavior, but it seemed pretty obvious from the point of view of others. That was the opinion of half the people there – not just me.

    I found the place five years ago and It was the first time I actually felt comfortable in a “church” setting. Things changed a lot the couple last years and just kept getting weirder until everything exploded out in the open. The whole thing made me just walk away in disgust. Then shortly after the guy drowned himself. His wife is still trying to put herself back together – she is one of the broken who I understand and love with everything I have.

    But, now I’m right back to where I started. No place to express myself spiritually and feel comfortable doing so.

  67. You know this post really moved me. I am so conscious of not invading anyone’s space that I think I miss potentially beautiful connections like the ones you describe.

  68. “And for all this, nature is never spent;
    There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
    …Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
    World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright
    wings.”

    ~ Gerard Manley Hopkins, GOD’S GRANDEUR

  69. Rachel…hee hee…bodice rippers! I used to read those all the time while I was babysitting these kids…their mom had a stack of them. LAWD HAVE MERCY!!! *fanning self*

    You missed the V.C. Andrews conversation…believe me, I think most of us have enjoyed more than a few tawdry epistles in our day.

  70. So I’m teaching The Awakening crossed with Their Eyes Were Watching God just now, and have been listening to my students’ soundtrack projects (I wish I could take credit for the brilliance of that assignment, but it’s all my student teacher’s doing) …listening to their music and thinking in new ways about Edna in her pigeon house and about Janie on the muck and the way Grand Isle is now one big pipeline and oil derrick when it used to be posh beauty and about what hurricanes do to a landscape and a people–and I come to this post full of NOLA and reminders to be present with people you meet even once and to realize that you may be present even to those you’ve never met…

    Thanks all, for contributing to my current internal monologue.

    p.s. While on an absurdist vacation to Louisiana some years ago, we stayed at a guest house in the French Quarter,right next to the Voodoo Museum. The room was dominated by a huge wall mural of a dragon encrusted with faux jewels and which, I was alarmed to discover, GLOWED IN THE DARK. Sleep was an elusive commodity.

  71. Kate-
    Thank you very much for that affirmation. A little shy to post with such a great group already going. I’ve always been more of a lurker.
    (There I go with the stalker talk again. Geez.)
    On blogs only, really.

  72. Steph, your gold nugget is stashed away in my heart forever. Lovely. Thank you.

    Haven, it was me back up the line, not Moma Dee.
    Sorry for the confusion. I love you like a Moma Bear.
    That should count too.

  73. we are still doing poetry???

    I’m Alive, I Believe In Everything

    Self. Brotherhood. God. Zeus. Communism.
    Capitalism. Buddha. Vinyl records.
    Baseball. Ink. Trees. Cures for disease.
    Saltwater. Literature. Walking. Waking.
    Arguments. Decisions. Ambiguity. Absolutes.
    Presence. Absence. Positive and Negative.
    Empathy. Apathy. Sympathy and entropy.
    Verbs are necessary. So are nouns.
    Empty skies. Dark vacuums of night.
    Visions. Revisions. Innocence.
    I’ve seen All the empty spaces yet to be filled.
    I’ve heard All of the sounds that will collect
    at the end of the world.
    And the silence that follows.

    I’m alive, I believe in everything
    I’m alive, I believe in it all.

    Waves lapping on the shore.
    Skies on fire at sunset.
    Old men dancing on the streets.
    Paradox and possibility.
    Sense and sensibility.
    Cold logic and half truth.
    Final steps and first impressions.
    Fools and fine intelligence.
    Chaos and clean horizons.
    Vague notions and concrete certainty.
    Optimism in the face of adversity.

    I’m alive, I believe in everything
    I’m alive, I believe in it all.

    Lesley Choyce

  74. Hi Rachel, don’t feel intimated…
    “Is that phrase allowed on this intellectual blog? ”
    I don’t think it’s too high brow when George writes about doo-doo, and he’s one of the smart guys here.
    Here’s bad cat poetry from me
    Crash’s poem
    Crash the orange potato, sits on the couch like a lump, has been mistaken for a stump,..Crash the orange potato!.
    Fred’s poem
    Fred, Fred sits in bed, he is stripe-ed
    now nobody steal those great poems.
    Susan g (headacheless)

  75. Before I comment on the above post may I just ask this of y’all?…

    Is it just me or is Haven’s lingo just hilarious?!?

    “…make with the yackety-yack”,
    “…it’s the berries”,
    “..speedy-quick”

    and a personal favourite-

    “…what really put’s A SHINE ON MY ASS…”,

    -That’s all I can think of momentarily but bravo, you are so very funny Miss Haven. For years I’ve recorded quotes of writers, poets and raconteurs alike. It’s now time to start recording your witticisms under “Haven Kimmel’s Lingo” in my journal.

  76. Rachel, you are entirely welcome. Good heavens, don’t worry about being too low-brow for . . . well, me. I can’t speak for everyone, but I personally am covered with crumbs from a blueberry danish which wasn’t even good, and I’m drinking coffee out of a to-go cup because I don’t want to walk in the house from the barn and get a real one. I could say more but you get the picture. Glad to have you here.

  77. O My Jodi. I nearly posted that poem a dozen times. I love it like crazy.

  78. Particles of Spirit — may I ask what religious tradition you were raised in? And may I just casually put the preposition at the end of the sentence that way?

  79. Tex, today my daughter and I were walking around trying to find as many ways as possible to use this phrase: “The excema on my face is actin’ the fool.” “The size of my butt is actin’ the fool.” You can imagine.

  80. Haven, you give me chills! What a cool Hafiz story. I put a link to your blog on my blog, just so you know. I don’t know the etiquette on that yet but thought it best to tell you.

  81. Nola. What a pretty sound. Nooo-la.

    Sounds the way a vat of molasses cooling smells. No-la.

    It was 1995, and it was my birthday, and I had an afternoon to kill, and I was there.

    Don’t get me started! I ate fried oysters till they had to bury me in a piano case. Man were talkin FOODGASM.

    I resurrected and went into a little shop and bought a robot chimp that hissed
    and clanged cymbals rattatatatatat. What a bargain. Where is he now? He never writes, never calls, the hissing, clanging little shithead.

    I watched a preacher standing on a stone who roared and waved his hands as if he was fighting bees. Big crowd watching. He was pulling ghosts out of the air and throwing them at us and we all yelled
    as they passed through us.

    Across the street was a boy playing a plastic bucket with drumsticks and he was so good the sun came out from behind the clouds to listen.

    After awhile, I was thirsty, and went to a bar
    called Archies. They gave me a free beer when they found out I was from Nebraska. We talked big over that LSU – Nebraska football game from when I was about 8 years old, and these guys were talking about it like it happened yesterday. This guy that worked there’s kids were all excited and eating moon pies and ran in circles around us. “Show dis man frm Nebraska how you run like dee wind.” he says.

    I fended off panhandlers with – get this – a whoopee cushion. I bought it in a joke shop on bourbon. Secreted it under my jacket. See – when they get in your face wanting money, you give it a burst by squeezing your elbow against it, and they just walk away.

    I was on a street car and we stopped and there was a really pretty lady in a flower print dress wearing sunglasses behind a wrought iron fence with one of those big mossy haunted house trees in the yard. I waved at her and she waved back. She was holding a pitchfork.

    And all this before 2 o’clock.
    Don’t get me started!

    Best,

    M

  82. Well thank you for the welcome. So much wit, intelligence and warmth all in one place.

    I have a New Orleans question. Can anyone recommend what I should do on a day trip there with my husband and 3 year old daughter. Oh, and she doesn’t really like drinking yet. (Do I need to add here, that I’m kidding?) I have already written on my list a trip to Cafe du Monde to eat beignets and drink cafe au lait.

  83. Oh raise the jubilee umbrella, MATT PIERSOL FROM NEBRASKA HAS JOINED THE BAND. Chirren, you don’t know what you have here, but I do: he is a right flat genius. He is pure crazy gold. I wrote a picture book about him but I haven’t sold it yet. MATT!!! Hooray!!!

  84. Rachel, oh dear. I didn’t know children were allowed in New Orleans.

  85. That’s exactly what I was afraid of. Y’all are calling social services now aren’t you.

  86. Matt…oh my…for a second I thought someone was posting a poem again!

  87. Haven, Lutheran Missouri Synod. It was a drag me by the ear kind of thing, and then my mother made it 1000 times worse by making me wear a dress every dang Sunday. 😐

    When I first went to the “church” It was part of the ELCA but they were kicked out for being too radical. I liked the radical part, but I just couldn’t reconcile feeding my faith with those who are deliberately unfaithful. You know what I mean?

  88. Picture book? About moi? Like a picture book for kids?
    Is it called:
    “You’re different. And that’s bad.”
    Or maybe:
    “North Sea Eel Harvest.”
    maybe
    “Hairballs ‘n’ Hailstones.”
    Hows bout:
    “When Dads Wear Dresses.”
    I suppose the guys at work would get a chuckle outta that.

    Seriously, I had a dream the other night, and in it
    frickin’ MOREY AMSTERDAM talked to me and said, why don’t you send Havenskya a nice letter! I’m SERIOUS!
    You know who he is? He was a comic back in the 40s and 60s.

    It’s been only what, ? years, and I didn’t know where to send it, so I just googled you and lo and behold there’s your blog, giant limbs a-swaying like one of those thanksgiving day giant elk balloons floating away with a bunch of people kicking and holding onto the ropes… it took me awhile to figure it out I just typed words into this little box and clicked “Submit Comment” and there it is.

    Can you believe it?

    Best,

    Der Hootster

  89. Just…wow. This is the problem with rehearsing ninety percent of my life — there is always so much to respond to on this blog that I get overwhelmed with the goodness and don’t know where to start.

    Steph, that story brought me to tears. What a testament to your spirit. I can’t wait to hear your laugh at our blog convention in New Orleans! : )

    Haven, those airport stories are amazing. Really. Thank you for being that rare and beautiful person that you are. And Hafiz — gracious. Thank God you brought him into my life. I am ordering I Heard God Laughing immediately.

    I’ve never been to New Orleans, but from your description, Haven, I feel like my soul would be very happy there. So glad you had such a wonderful time with those lovely friends of yours (great pictures!). And I am VERY happy to hear that you’re doing alright, health-wise. Please let us know if there’s anything we can possibly do besides continue to send massive amounts of prayers, good thoughts, and love your way.

  90. Morey Amsterdam? Wasn’t he the guy who worked with Dick Van Dyke and Ann Marie on the Dick Van Dyke Show in the early 1960s? (talk about dating ourselves) Rachel, how about a steam boat ride? Probably best to avoid the tranny bars and jazz clubs.

  91. Matt…!! Please stay 4-EVER!

  92. I told my husband I am going to New Orleans without him someday. My sister in law loves it, I figured I can go with her. He got all offended and I reminded him that he told me he hated New Orleans because of all the condoms on the sidewalk. He reminded me that was in the 8th grade. So, I guess we’ll go together someday, now that’s he’s old enough to appreciate the rich culture and ignore the debauchery.

  93. You know, even as we speak, over there across the ocean, that lady you talked to on the plane, is talking to her friends at some market, and they are thumping melons, and she is saying she met an American lady on the airplane, who spoke like an angel. And there are children hanging onto their skirts and looking out at the world through chocolate marble eyes. And there are camels bawling for grain. And some man with a handlebar moustache is yelling “MELON GOODNESS! WHO WILL BE FIRST TO BUY?

    Thump thump thump thump.

    You know, She has one less person in the world to be afraid of now.

    I’m proud of you.

    Best,

    Matt

  94. Do you see what I mean about Matt in Nebraska?!? Oh lord above.

    The picture book is about Nebraska Matt, Who Loved Bees and Bats. I just said to John a week ago, maybe two, “I’ve got to rope that Matt onto my blog. I’ll use trickery if I must.”

  95. P.O.S., I asked because I’ve found that for many people there is something to be regained in their earliest religious tradition. Something particular to the spirit, or the memory — what we first perceive as holy. But I don’t know about Lutherans.

  96. Hey! Where’d everybody go? What is it, my cologne?
    I know…
    You all turned into coyotes again. And are having a coyote party over by those grain elevators out by the state pen.
    I can hear you all over there. Don’t you ever get tired?
    Well, I have to get up at six. And I can’t leave cause my kids are asleep.

    Good-night Noshi, and Al on the airplane, and the dishwashers at the Cafe Du Monde, and Nola the Pretty Lady with the Pitchfork.

    Goodnight.

  97. Goodnight, Matt, son of Richard! Of course I know who Morey Amsterdam is. I worked with a woman who looked exactly like him as a baby. She grew out of it, alas.

  98. Goodness, I’m late to the NOLA party.

    I was born there in 1963 and made it through the big hurricanes (Betsy and Camille) and went to Mardi Gras when 8-year-olds could still go and yell “Throw me somethin, mista!” It’s a crazy place with an even crazier dialect but it always has a pull on you wherever you go. I always think of the song “Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans?” by Louis Armstrong. I have been a little nervous to go back after Katrina but will be there for a family wedding. Beignets on the menu for sure.

    Thanks, everyone, for the memories…

  99. Vanessa, that’s one of my favorite songs. It breaks my heart.

  100. How could anyone know about Lutherans when they tend to ignore Luther’s philosophies? Or, maybe I’m just pissy. 🙂

  101. I love that song too!! My family used to listen to it on this tape we had…the original broadcast of “Who’s on First,” complete with musical interludes and cigarette commercials!

  102. I have stayed in that place! It is amazing.

  103. Thanks, Miss H, for the lovely shout out to Jefferson and me! (I would also thank you for the advert of the B&B but might seem a bit mercenary…) Tell your minions that Block-Keller House will look forward to hosting the Haven’s Blog Babies in New Orleans Convention. From the looks of your blof roll, though, it’s going to be some pretty close quarters round here! But with sleeping bags, Ambien and ear plugs they can just fill up any window seat, club chair and old sofa. No problem! Love ya’, Babe! (got the window fixed, btw, and have a new and improved mp3 player – so screw you, Car Jack!)

  104. Wow, what a charmed life. You have so much fun and meet such interesting people. I’m so excited for you! I hope to one day meet you in the airport. Too bad I didn’t know who you were when I was a flight attendant 10 years ago … I was flying all around the US all the time.

  105. YAY new window! And oh, there’ll be some Blog Babies in your gorgeous domicile before you know it.

    And also B., we have confirmations for Thanksgiving from C., R.&J. You MUST.

  106. Hello Girl From The Ghetto! Haven’t seen you in a while.

  107. Also Bryan, I forgot my collection of Cheever stories and Shea Z.’s replacement alligator head because my cabdriver, Myrl D’arcy’s son, arrived early! I was like, that is so not the New Orleans way, y’all.

  108. I’m a bad, bad blog reader. Shame on me, but I finally did subscribe to your blog. I love it!


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