With otherworldly clarity, a New Orleans poet details the depths of trying times.
First Quarantine Winter
Icicles fang the eaves of your cabin.
Each morning comes along and with it,
the assumption that it will be similar
enough to the previous one. That you
will be safe. That your family will be
alive. That life will remain mostly as it
was. Then in the space of a breath,
everything changes. Fear, like a long
dark finger, reaches across the room,
past the last of the foxgloves arranged
with a bright red bow, and scratches
you on the nose. The halo of moths
clear. Earth travels another thousand
kilometers along its orbit. The
tamaracks sway as the horizon eats the
sun. Red-blue-red-blue light licking the
edge of the stairs. The hem of life
already sweeping away.
Come Home, Mama
riverbarge slow. bright searchlight eyes rimming muddy water.
i sit on the bench you claimed.
the mouth of a broken bottle tonguing a river stick. tightfisted.
once, you stood on the bench and jousted invisible knights.
even the nutria squeaked.
the sunset scorched your hair into flames.
that night we lulled in the wake of the barges.
our toes swallowed by silt.
you slit your heel on an oyster shell
and it wasn’t til sunrise we saw the blood.
do you dreamwalk tonight? i shade my eyes
from the barge’s passing light.
toes at the water’s edge wetwillied.
thick woolsock silence. even the trees
stop chittering. another year goes.
i am alone.
Nikki Ummel is a queer artist and editor in New Orleans. Nikki has been published in Gulf Coast, The Georgia Review, and others. She is the 2022 recipient of the Leslie McGrath Poetry Prize. She has a poetry chapbook, Hush (Belle Point Press, 2022), and a hybrid chapbook, Bayou Sonata (NOLA DNA, 2023).