Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Ormand Plantation and Natasha Tretheway

After reading Bellocq's Ophelia by Natasha Trethewey, I began thinking of my own mulatto mother. I read the entire book on the plan to NOLA. Once I checked into Ormond Plantation, and found my way to the room, then the entire place inspired many drafts.

This is also an attempt to load photos from the plantation and tell a story with photos and my poetry. Above is the fireplace view of my huge room. I was amazed at the chamber pot and how the condition was so good. Can you imagine have to use it all night, or even day, and the maids had to empty and clean them. Yeah.

Natasha's book mentions about Bellocq, a white French Creole man born into wealth. He chose to become a photographer, which I am sure was a luxury hobby back then. He made his second hobby going around and photographing prostitutes and life in the opium dens. Many of the girls he found his favorites were light skinned mulatto and creole women. She creates a character for her poems, Ophelia, and writes from a perspective in the Storyville area. Many of the brothels were have said to been good to the women they kept. There is much history on-line about this area of NOLA.

At breakfast the next morning, I imagined Ophelia and Natasha having breakfast with me. I was, totally alone with only my thoughts...

Breakfast with Apparitions
                     Ormond Plantation 2013

Grandmother had called me back from the grave,
on the plane I was introduced to Ophelia
by Natasha, a new poet. After arriving we met
for breakfast. The breakfast table was set for
twelve, but I sat at the head nearest the entrance.

Disturbed by an early morning train and its
whistle, I had found myself wandering the halls.
The high back chairs brought comfort to an
aching back of travel and no means. Slaves were
hustling about in the kitchen, in the empty
manor as I waited for others two to arrive.

Ophelia, still living in the 1800’s came
modestly dressed. I saw her gown of satin,
almost golden like the surrounding room.
Her skin was no contrast to the dark mahogany
furnishings against the wall. She could not
smile, and kept her head down toward the
table. It was as though her mind was in
another place. Hardships of Storyville, circa
1911; seduced by promises of a purse fattened
by French suitors baring expensive champagne,
and frocks of silk. My wearing pants and
cotton t-shirts with a padded vest may have
frightened her, as I was a ghost of the future.

A bowl of fresh fruit, pineapple and strawberries
would have delighted my father who was
not welcome; his wordy male tongue of
vulgar indecencies was not welcome at this table.
His navy and tin can recollections were indulgences
would never touch my lips again, they tasted
much sweeter in my youth.

I wanted Natasha to sit in the parlor after eating,
to discuss the nature of life in bondage to a
society of the only true freedom for people
of color. Women after all had chosen this
profession for centuries, and had no other
way to support themselves otherwise. I
heard the staff prattling toward the table again
and new my time with these ladies was coming
to a close. My grandmother waited to be released;
her body would be placed next to her latest
husband, prayers would be lifted to follow in
ascension, greeted by cherubs, as in this
room, covered in gold paint, bodies of the past
and present, you knew breakfast had come to a close.          

This is a work of prose in progress. I still have many more in my notebook to get into the files. I was so fascinated by the history of where my grandfather called home for most of his life, the people, and most of all those who survived its many travesties. This will be removed within a week or so.

If you have not read Natasha Tretheway's work, you should. The mere mention of her name to a young writer Maurice Ruffin in Boston this February set us to talking for hours. I would love to sit down and talk to her, as I mention in the prose. She has inspired me in so many ways.

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