Two Poems by Betsy Housten

Finding Words

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.

Listen also

​​​ 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


​​​ like yours,

​​​​​​ 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:

#poetry #betsyhousten #newyorkcity #neworleans

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