Excising a Memorial to the Confederate General Robert E. Lee
New Orleans, LA
Confederate cake-topper, arms crossed
as if to shrug the bird shit off his shoulders—
of course he’s got to go. So why the scrap
of rebel in me clinging to this piss-soaked ground
where his pillar stands, Mardi Gras memory lane, where
I puked through my nose, observed rats untie shoes
and tunnel up some guy’s pants empty where the leg
should be? I never paid attention to Lee himself,
big man above, nicknamed King of Spades for ordering
soldiers just to dig in. And boy, he is rooted here, deep,
a ghost with disciples still, his Dixie gospel a fog
I breathe complicitly by sharing air with good ole boys
who glorify the past with choreographed reinactments
at Chalmette Battlefield, still pining for what would be
if the South had won. Same ones who genuflect
before bloodstained artifacts at the Confederate Museum
down the street. Field trips there left me convinced
I was superior, proud pariah of the antebellum world.
As one outsized, she-ogre huskier than any Yank
or Reb, I was partly right. But also I am Louisiana born,
with a rebel attitude entrenched, dug in, a belle genetically
unable to stand down, just as the Confederate general
Robert E. Lee commanded. I am his unwitting subject,
ready to lock horns over anything, including
the right to gawk at illustrations in a doctor’s manual
held open to the page of hacksaws and hooks.
I read that they would tie men down, with the limb
to be excised dangling from the cot, knock them out
with opium or fists before applying the violence
needed, sometimes, to save a life. And so I cast myself
as killer angel in this tale, my gown a mop for blood,
my handiwork a regiment of empty sleeves
shaking their defiant, phantom fists at the sky.
Originally published in Queen of Cups
Feast of the Perfect Strangers
There are the end time pilgrims, disciples
Of God’s silence, and then there’s me, ecstatic,
Ritualistic in my stumbles on ordinary days,
On World Labyrinth Day, with a stone in each hand,
My head crowded with giggles and prayers
And the sound of bells rung underwater.
Strange words. As though I swallowed a fish hook,
An unseen hand pulls these songs from my throat.
I may look dead, but my spirit is alive.
I’ve worked myself into a state of amazement
At what began as a makeshift banquet
Of weekday riches. I call on you to testify,
Perfect strangers, that I weep for no reason,
And my footprints fill with flowers as foretold
Originally published in Image
Alison Pelegrin is the author of four poetry collections, most recently Waterlines with LSU Press. The recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Louisiana Division of the Arts, recent work of hers appears in The Southern Review, The Cincinnati Review, and Image. She teaches at Southeastern Louisiana University.