Two Poems by Richard Weaver
Ruthie the Duck Girl, later the Duck Lady
“There ain’t a whole lot of us left, George.” Ruthie talking to George Dureau
after the death of The Lady with the Cross, Eloise Lopez Arollo Samakintos
Her trademark roller skates were
fashionable years before rollerblades,
though not in the streets of New Orleans.
Five feet tall in her high-ankle white boots
she rolled the French Quarter
with her ducklings hurrying behind.
Up Royal. Across Canal. Down Chartres
and past the Napoleon House.
Over to Decatur by way of Dumaine.
Local myth had it she slept
near the Mississippi, under
the River bridge, sheltered
in its meandering currents.
Quarter people, her flat-world friends,
would replenish her followers
as they died, dehydrated,
trying to keep up with Mom.
How many Jacks, Kacks, Lacks, Macks,
Nacks, Ouacks, Packs, and Quacks
imprinted with her, or were run over
by bikes or cars, or caught
beneath the wheels of Lucky Dog vendors
is not a part of this poem.
Easter was the cruelest month.
Quarterites and tourists brought offerings
to Jackson Square, looking back
at the St. Louis Cathedral.
New ducklings to replace those
who had had been lost in the last year.
An overwhelming abundance.
A barb-wired grace.
Ruthie’s street hustle was more subtle
than most. Early on she roamed
the Quarter rather than suffer school.
Encouraged by her mother
who rolled her daughter’s hair
in sausages for the Shirley Temple look,
and allowed her daughter’s ducks
to live in the bathtub, until the battle of baths. became too great, and Ruthie annexed the Vieux Carre.
Restlessly she strolled the streets
and later rolled with her flock
trailing in the daylight. Unschooled
she still found ways to make money:
Want a picture? Pay her to pose. And later
with the help of friends: Buy a postcard
at Ruthie prices: 25 cents for one,
or 3 for a dollar! A bargain. No autographs.
Ruthie’s street math.
The bars of Bourbon street,
and those closer to the river
found ways to accept her
and those who followed,
tourists or ducks. All
given stools at the bar.
Bud and Kools.
Those were her brands.
Any “light cigarette” would do.
Anything you could light.
And any beer would do
though Bud was preferred
as long as it was understood
you were paying.
And she was drinking.
Someone paid either way.
Forced to leave New Orleans
before Katrina, she died
as Hurricane Gustav headed shoreward,
its winds diminished to Category 2 status.
No one leaves the Big Easy
when the winds are that low.
Unless called back.
The Napoleon House
New Orleans. Late 1970’s. Working in the French Quarter.
Teaching poetry writing to seniors. The elderly across the city.
Class has ended. Rain, serious rain has begun. We accept
rain as something to be expected. Normal in lower case.
Not a big deal. Sure we had pumps. I lived near a huge one
that hummed its N’awlins tune daily, doing its business
moving water out to the lake. Thought nothing of it. Normal.
As I said. Except this day more clouds emptied their bladders
over the Quarters in less time than a gypsy could remove
your rings, your wallet, your gold teeth, and the webbing
between your fingers. Knee-deep I waded from the Quarter’s
southern edge, towards the meandering Mississippi,
heading towards what I knew to be higher ground,
a refuge for Little Boney, the God of Clay, in his exile days.
A space across from old slave quarters. The Napoleon house.
My home away from whom. My Port of call. The place
where time reversed itself and the Quarter became quieted.
Mannerly. Where time traveled backwards. Waiters dressed
in black with white shirts and bowties, with Italian attitudes
accompanied by classical music. A space where natives
and tourists could gather, where the small gods of indulgence
might appear to guide your novel, or poem, play or memoir.
(Painters hung out a block away at the Alpine). Where the low-lying
fruit of inspiration was hanging to be had. Where this afternoon
I gathered with others seeking refuge from rain. It might have been
nearly noon. I comforted myself with Jimmy Buffett mantra:
it’s 5 o’clock somewhere. And savored the memory of a Neruda
poem 80-year-old Gaspar Palombo had recited during class.
Time to drink. One Guinness stout after another until the stash
has gone, the well empty, and the water drained as well. My kind
wife at the offered a ride to our space near the brackish estuary
of Lake Pontchartrain. The rest is lost to the history of mystery.
Richard Weaver lives in Baltimore City, where he volunteers with the Maryland Book Bank, CityLit and the Baltimore Book Festival. He is the author of The Stars Undone (Duende Press). He is also writer-in-residence at the James Joyce Pub. Publications that have included his work are Dead Mule, Slush Pile, Birmingham Arts Journal, NER, New Orleans Review, FRIGG, Vanderbilt Poetry Review, Black Warrior Review, Barrow Street, Southern Quarterly, Poetry and Magnolia Review. Read his previous poem in Deep South here.