by Betsy Housten
My city's drowning in ash.
Folks been walking around in dust masks
since the buildings fell.
No cars allowed below 14th Street.
Even the subway is quiet,
listening. The President is calling for war.
I do not want war.
I do not want hot grey flakes of ashes
to blanket any other city, nor the dead quiet
that follows explosions and briefly masks
the rending chaos on its heels. Enough streets
have known such oblivion. Eleven days before Fall
begins, nine days after moving to town, I am falling
up into Union Square, where pillar candles war
for space on the concrete steps overlooking the street.
Chalk drawings, armies of ashed-out
cigarettes snuffed on the sidewalk, fright masks
in place of faces. Grief quiets
a bustling city, a beating life. Quietly
I speak to strangers, as we watch the towers fall
again and again on so many screens. Reeling. Masking.
Crying in the grocery store, suddenly at war
with our families, with friends in other states, ashen
and gutted from arguing, throat-raw, streets
of new lines paving our cheeks. On my street,
we do not sleep. Throughout the boroughs, our quiet
is readying, then ratcheting to a shout, ash
from burned metal and flesh still fluttering, felled
from the bluest sky onto our shoulders, our shoes. War
Is Not The Answer, cries a banner we march behind, masking
tape and safety pins holding our patched-up masked-up
bodies together for the long months in the streets
ahead. The person I think I love says: War
*is* the answer, just to a different question. I am quiet,
thinking what an abominable time to fall
for anyone, wondering what ashes
will be made of my unmasked heart, each moment ashing
its wet red streets to tatters, all of this falling,
unstoppable war, such terrible quiet.
New Orleans Love Song
by Betsy Housten
Mama NOLA must be a Gemini:
swift and charming and gorgeous,
mutable air, impossible to pin down.
Full of magical ghosts. Listen
to her rough heart on the wind, she'll carry you. But don't
ask her to meet you
at any particular time, don't ask
to be stood up. Let her let you
lose things: flasks, step trackers, tarot decks.
for her ragged histories, her violence and
the ways her people get up again
and again, until they don't.
Don't think it's a coincidence
that both your friends in town
this week are Gemini too;
she's drawing them in, her swamp breath tickling their
hot sweet glitter whisper
burst with night jasmine and freight train siren
and that goddamn
breakfast biscuit, butter and egg and spinach and feta
twirling on your tongue like the first
girl you loved who lived here years ago,
a swing dancer
and Gemini rising, of course. Take none of it
for granted: not the terrified clutch of everyone's fists
each June through
nor the sun shawling your
as you swing your bike onto your best friend's street,
exactly between coasting and speeding,
tires tracing a perfect arc on the tattered
Betsy Housten is a Pushcart-nominated queer writer and massage therapist. Her work appears in Burning House Press, Memoir Mixtapes, Longleaf Review, Glassworks, Little Red Tarot, and NILVX. Jersey-born and Brooklyn-bred, she currently lives in New Orleans, where she is pursuing her MFA in poetry.
Image by Steven Depolo, found on Flickr: https://flic.kr/p/rryMEg