Megan Burns: From Carville: Village of Forgotten Names

Spring '09 TOC

6.5 million people infected worldwide

where are they, where are they
                        do they look like us     do they walk and talk
and take their treatment and go on about their business
                        and nobody has to know                                how will we know   

are they not put away

                        2.5 million people undiagnosed                    leprosy

who would you tell, who would need to be told
if you are not contagious, do you tell your lover

if you work with children, the elderly, the sick
in a hospital, a hospice, a nursing home, on a delivery floor
                                                who needs to know
if you are in treatment, if you have been treated, if you are free to go



other people’s skin


the world now is empty
                        what do they do with all their time?     the lepers
in the leprosarium


              are making their beds     are looking from their windows
are using their toilets     are changing their socks
and now    and now

       this tale begins
                                    once in time
                         as long as there has been a time


we have been among you
we have your face, your eyes
                        the wicked witch, the beast,
the monster under the bed
has nothing on us
                        even to mention us is certain death


isolation and care
                        (to be at the edge)  “stone-dead”
each hour its task
                        the idea of home as trapped in place, marked
and marked off by time’s exclusivity

so within the walls so without

at Carville

will remain

                        human remains

a hoard of stories held up after the storm

flooding the land is an old tale
of mythic proportions
as any illness is to being human

to live surrounded by water:
a calculated risk
a block of prose that imagines it’s an answer

on hope’s last raft
bound for surer climes
walking miles of levee
trying to gauge what will hold
trying to assess who is dangerous
cap-sized, this too shall float

in any hand that handles the discarded
what can it possibly mean any more to be Southern
gone south from what to what
that they were ferried down river
the city’s treacherous curve, its crescent namesake
the world rounded by its unspoken fear

to every tremble its stillness
hand in hand as in this silence
to its own unmaking
various lives unspoken, day to day unfolds

and if I were writing this life
why not? even here people fall in love
get married, why just last week I won at Bingo
and now am sewing a red blouse that will bloom
against my skin, the color, I mean
            here in a place obsessed with skin, funny
how the color of it doesn’t mean much
                        black and white is not what matters
                                    but sick or well
                                                part or whole
                                                            person or


                        I call it my house because I lay my head here
even though no one here knows my name

no one is dreaming
having fallen in love
with a brown bird outside the window
     and sings a little song     o, happy day

the sun came out again and you are here
Elkborn Plantation burned to the ground by an angry mob
rather than it be opened as a leprosarium
                                     near New Orleans’ city limits

a city wounded by fear

morally, if not literally, contagious

rather it focuses on memory

                                                alluvial bird foot

to unify a persecuted community


                                                                        the word New Orleans

it’s a musical line tracing halfway
around the globe from one vast continent
to this small unanchored city
cracked on its own backbeat, feathered and sequined
a delicate disorder, how we disappear


exchange this battered day for wolf teeth
for toothy grin, for jawbone to play upon
take out the color of your burden for daylight’s surmise


it was once a wooden city burned down
once a city of brick that sank beneath the water line

there are only two kinds of levees: those that have failed and those that will fail


of the city
caught in the crest of its own dead wave
as on scalloped leaves
irregular bay creolized


[origin French créole, earlier criole from Spanish criollo prob. from Portuguese crioulo black person born in Brazil, home-born slave, from criar nurse, breed from Latin creare create verb]

what do you have to pay your passage
the boat man’s pleasure
an ecstasy of divining
can you say your hands were truly empty
when you boarded


the moment of the shatter before the shards emerge
the thread of song is never-ending
no need to convince us of a water particles’ particular identity
speak harshly about a lake
season after season exacting in its return

the wind drops three shades cooler and the darkest clouds
roll towards the east crossing over the landscape
and the mud is the mud
sprinkled with white shells
rain in its slanted design
a smooth black line underscoring important passages
the way through language from disaster


but what of this world that is, now, a single
violent gesture

                                                Carville stopped accepting residents in 1986


the last group of people in America to be legally banished
due to a contagious infection
based on the common social construction
that the body would fall apart
not hold to a cohesive narrative
as a rupture in language
disrupted life story
where the  I   was interrupted
and reassigned this identity
of unclean touch

king into anonymity
the displaced marginalization
reserved for lepers
mentally ill

make no distinctions
heart of hearts
where the sun rises
prefer the shadow to the silent

:: TOC ::

Not Enough Night
Not Enough Night
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