David is the former editor/publisher of A Slow Tempo Press, specializing in full-length books of poetry by such notable Nebraska Poets as former Nerbaska State Poet William Kleofkorn, Don Welch, current Nebraska State Poet Twyla Hansen, R.F. McEwen, and Amil Qualye among others. In 1990 he was the recipient of the Mayor's Art Award for Literature, Lincoln, Nebraska. He is a founding member and former editor for The Nebraska Center for the Book. He is an alumnus of the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, where he studied with novelist Warren Fine and poet Greg Kuzma.
From 1989-1990 he hosted "Voices of the Plains" a weekly half-hour radio program of conversations with and readings by Nebraska poets and writers, broadcast on community radio KZUM 89.3 FM with grants for the Lincoln Arts Council and the Nebraska Humanities Council. Some of the guests on the series included Nebraska State Poet William Kloefkorn, Prairie Schooner editor Hilda Raz, Roy Scheele, poet and publisher Greg Kosmicki, former United States Poet Laureate Ted Kooser, novelist Kent Haruf (and other fiction writers), along with student poets, cowboy poets, and members of the Nebraska State Penitentiary's Writer's Workshop.
David has published articles in the Nebraska Humanities Magazine, Lincoln Journal Star, The Nebraska Center for the Book Quarterly, Mid-America Publishers Association Newsletter, Blues Revue Quarterly, American Harmonica Newsletter. With grants from the Nebraska Humanities Council and The Nebraska Center for the Book he co-edited with Kira Gale, Resource Guide to Six Nebraska Authors, Volumes One and Two, A Slow Tempo Press, 1991
He has published two chapbooks of poetry, Visual Language, with photography by Clay Walker, A Slow Tempo Press, 1990; and Seven Poems, Sandhills Press, 1993. His poetry has been published in numerous literary publications. His work has appeared in the anthologies, Forty Nebraska Poets, edited by Greg Kuzma, The Best Cellar Press, 1981; Decade Dance, edited by Mark Sanders, Sandhills Press, 1991; King, Warrior, Magician, Weenie, the Best of Contemporary Men's Humor, edited by Peter Sinclair, The Crossing Press, 1993; Nebraska Voices, Telling the Stories of Our State, Nebraska Humanities Council, 1993; Nebraska Presence: An Anthology of Poetry , edited by Greg Kosmicki and Mary K. Stillwell, The Backwaters Press, 2007 (see below).
Nebraska Presence: An Anthology of Poetry
One Book One Nebraska, 2018 Selection
People across Nebraska are encouraged to read the work of Nebraska poets in 2018—and then talk about the poems with their friends and neighbors. Nebraska Presence: An Anthology of Poetry (The Backwaters Press, 2007) edited by Greg Kosmicki and Mary K. Stillwell was selected as the 2018 One Book One Nebraska at the Nebraska Center for the Book’s Celebration of Nebraska Books on October 21.
Poems by more than eighty contemporary Nebraska poets are featured in the collection. This includes Pulitzer Prize winner and former Poet Laureate of the United States Ted Kooser, Nebraska State Poet Twyla Hansen, former State Poet William Kloefkorn, several poets who have had their poems read on Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac (Greg Kuzma, Marjorie Saiser, Grace Bauer, and Greg Kosmicki), and widely noted poets Hilda Raz, Roy Scheele, Steve Langan, and many others.
Libraries across Nebraska will join other literary and cultural organizations in planning book discussions, activities, and events that will encourage Nebraskans to read and discuss this book. Support materials to assist with local reading/discussion activities will be available after January 1, 2018.
In June of 2017 David completed Grassland, a 88,000 word historical novel. He is currently seeking representation for the novel and is at work on a second historical novel, The Ferrotypist. Agents or publishers interesting in reading more of Grassland are encouraged to inquire through the contact page of this website.
Grassland is set on the Great Plains of the United States in 1833, in the region that is now northern Kansas and southern Nebraska. The narrative follows sixty-year-old Gerhardt Horst who is stricken with a stroke and thrown out on the open prairie. He survives due in part to the care of Pakskkiis, a transgender Wichita Shaman with an exceptional past. Together, along with a Pawnee crone, a mixed-blood boy, and a foundling infant, the two begin a passage through the uncharted possibilities of the early American West with all its savagery, solitude, and splendor. Coming into intimate and lethal contact with hostile tribes and renegade soldiers, Pawnee priests and Christian missionaries, tornados and wildfires, this provisional family struggles to survive and overcome the obstacles of language, sexuality, culture, and religion, in a land of unbounded violence and beauty.
Excerpt from Grassland a novel by David McCleery:
The travelers fell into the ravine taking precaution not to venture too far down where the rains, when they came, would surely wash and flood dangerous and fast through that declivity. They found an outcropping of rocks, crouched between them, and watched as the black and boiling storm groaned and rolled toward them. The rain began to fall in huge heavy, oily drops. An area of cloud began to roll and tumble like a dark sea. Then slowly, being stirred, the clouds began to rotate. “Tornado,” Pakskkiis yelled, using the old term her people had learned from the Spanish. “Tornado.” Bestial and heaving, the clouds circled slowly above them like a swelled and raging pool of muddy water.
Nurse Crone rose to her feet and handed Moses off to Horst. She pointed one thin, crooked finger through the rain as a gray funnel came down out of the clouds. She appeared to want to touch it. She stepped forward and reached out with both arms as the wind pulled her hair straight back from her skull. Her smock, soaked now from the rain, slipped off her shoulders. Pakskkiis stood and put her arms around her and pulled her back into the shelter of the rocks. The finger cloud retreated. Nurse Crone called out “Paruksti, Paruksti: wonderful one, wonderful one,” to welcome the funnel back and draw it toward her. She lifted her arms to the tempest skies as the thin funnel again protruded and dropped like a tree branch, twisting toward the prairie.
Iskatappe stood and called out the name, “Paruksti,” as well. He pointed and looked to Horst. “Paruksti,” he shouted. Horst knew of whom he spoke. He had heard the Pawnee talk about Paruksti at the Thunder Ceremony. King James had explained that Paruksti was the Wonderful One, the personified thunderstorm. He had told Horst that after the Star Gods had created man in their own image, they combined the powers of the storm into one great person, Paruksti, the Wonderful, and sent him to earth to inspect their handiwork. Here now was the Wonderful One again coming down to them. The finger of God, Horst thought. The finger of an old testament God made real and terrible.
Nurse Crone stood with Pakskkiis’ arms about her. Moses cried into the wind and rain. His small hands clenched, his eyes staring. Horst drew up a hide robe and nestled him in his arm.
Nurse Crone pushed Pakskkiis away and turned to her shouting, “Paruksti, Paruksti.” Then called forth by the storm she took the black rebozo from the pocket of her smock and handed it to Pakskkiis. She strode off leaning into the wind. Pakskkiis let her go. Her smock fell to her feet, she tripped on it, and she fell to the ground.
“Te'eecariyeeh,” Pakskkiis called out and stepped from the rocks. “Te'eecariyeeh,” she called again but did not proceed.
Nurse Crone picked herself up and turned toward them, smiled her toothless grin and shrieked in a voice beyond her frail body, a voice suddenly storm spun and wild. She cried out in the shrill voice Pawnee women used to mourn their dead or welcome home their Warriors. “Paruksti,” she screamed and stepped from the garment, proceeding willfully forward naked and primitive, covered with mud. She moved bent and prehistoric with her lordosis hump, her frail limbs, and her shriveled buttocks working hard to make progress into the center of the storm. They silently watched her go as lightning flashed in the clouds above and the spinning funnel flicked this way and that. Before them, the tornado grew in length and definition. And as they watched, the funnel lightly touched the prairie, like a branch dipped in water, or a lathe come down from heaven to scour the prairie clean. A huge black suck of dust was suddenly drawn up within the column. The grass became uprooted, and Horst could see small cedar trees spinning within the monstrous laden funnel. Then a sound such as Horst had never heard emanated from the storm. A sound like some great God stoked machine come to reap the land. The noise of some supernatural steamboat at full bore churning down the swells of the prairie.
The column of air grew in girth as it spun slow and dream-like toward them. The tornado plowed the prairie as it became large and otherworldly, becoming a thing apart, a strange dangerous animal-like being. Nurse Crone stopped and threw her head back, stretched her arms out as the tornado swept back and forth before her. The wind roared, and the rain blew hard. The travelers hid their faces. Horst could feel the wind try to lift him and Moses from where they crouched with the others. A small tree that grew near them became uprooted and was plucked up and blew past. Trees cracked, and limbs fell. Horst clutched at Moses, his cries now muted by the dark hide wrapped around him.
Horst and Pakskkiis peered over the wet cold nest of rocks and watched as Nurse Crone ran to meet the funnel. “She is going back up to stars,” Pakskkiis shouted out to Horst. “Back to the Stars.” Her thin legs lifted off the ground and then recovered. She ran a few steps more as the wind lifted her again. “Te'eecariyeeh,” Pakskkiis shouted. Nurse Crone fell to her knees, her eyes were wild. The sound of the tornado was deafening. While they watched, Nurse Crone magically lifted from the ground and began to float, to fly. She soared back and forth like a plucked and naked angel, a soaked stork-like bird, a circus acrobat unfettered. The winds dropped her forcefully to the ground. She struggled to stand and looked back at them, one last time. She threw back her head laughing to Paruksti or to whatever God or gods had created such a thing. She stretched up her arms to the heavens, and her hair rose above her head. She lifted off again from the ground. Then the great spinning arm of the funnel drew her closer, danced with her, and she shot up into the spinning mass of the cloud. Horst watched her go. She spun once, then twice, and was swallowed up into the churning majesty of the storm. She disappeared up into her coffin of cloud, to her home in the star-strewn sky that lay hidden and vaulted above the clouded storm, above the earthly bounds of the land of grass.
The funnel continued to plow and swing about. The travelers watched as it danced across the prairie. Then, the wild storm of music stopped. The funnel had collected its due. The tornado pulled back up into the sky. The rain came cold and heavy, the light darkened further yet, and the wind continued to blow. Lightning flashed, and the thunder boomed.
“She gone,” Pakskkiis called out into the driving rain. “Iírikis she gone from us,” she wailed. She turned and sat with her back to the rock and put her hands over her head as hail began to fall around them. The ice bounced off the stones and whispered in the grass and trees with the sound of a soft sigh. “Her bones turn to ice. She become cold star beads and falls down to us now.” She held out her hands and let the hail fall into them. She began to sing a mourning song, a song about how the spirits would welcome Te'eecariyeeh, Little Mouse, into their world and talk of all the great deeds she had done. She sang a lament and a song of praise. “Aheru raa heru kitu tix wahe he wata axrau isirit ra tawe: Beloved, come, Beloved, All spirits spoke. Here she comes. It is openly known that she did these generous things.” Over the crystal rattle of the ice her voice rose and fell, full of despair and sadness. She removed her hat, now barren of any scrap of paper, and exposed her wounded scalp. She walked out of the sheltering rocks and onto the open prairie. She looked up and spread her arms to the passing storm. An edge of sunlight appeared on the southern horizon. Like a slowly opening eyelid, the back edge of the storm drew toward them, and the horizon gradually brightened. The hail stopped, and the wind abated. A light rain began to fall. Horst watched as the darkest mass of the storm lumbered away to the northeast, toward the Platte. The early evening sun glimmered silver behind the line of fast moving clouds, and the sun escaped in ethereal light rushing over the wet prairie. The ice reflected the sunlight, millions of glass beads had been scattered around them. The air was clean, bright, and cold. The hail and high storm had left the air frigid with the chill of reality. Horst could see his breath.
Pakskkiis stood alone on the prairie, her head uncovered, and turned slowly in all directions looking for Nurse Crone. She sat down on a small rise where she stayed looking up to the sky. No wind, lightning, or finger of God came for her.
a novel in progress
Excerpt from the Ferrotypist, a novel by David McCleery
Beyond the Dark Veil
I worked at the Ferrotypist trade. Laudable Tin, I called it. Others named it such; Melainotypes, Ferrotypes, Tintypes. Deathbeds and babies, mostly. Sometimes both. Memento mori. Brides and murderers, too. Hangings. Families at the beach, brass bands. All were caught up within my dark and toxic art, all visages swam up through my mysterious chemistry of collodion emulsion and potassium cyanide bath; the deceased proprietor of a successful clothing store, two sisters dramatically drowned in a green and stagnant swamp, a one-eyed accordian player, a beauty queen in sash and gown, the young bride that worked behind the counter of Levy’s Resturant, a deceased six year old and his older siblings.
From behind my dark and somber veil, I entertained every whim, notion, and fanciful suggestion, was content to Ferrotype in whatever fashion requested. I practiced my modest industry with the calm continence of an Undertaker, seeking out the quick and the dead.
Stillness was required, eight to twenty seconds. But no matter how I implored, too often it was the quick that appeared blurred and ghostly. The dead were not a problem, and there was never any shortage.
I operated out of the Hotel Dieu on the corner of Conti and Rampart, with a small advertisement placed each week in the Picayune stating I could be contacted through the front desk. There I kept a room, and in the alley behind rented a small stable for a horse and wagon so outfitted and specifically suited that I could travel to home or local. On hire, a young Negro, Thelonious, to assist. A boy known for many traits, who shuttled requests from connections both formal and incidental, a boy knowledgeable of the wards, who kept his ears and eyes open, a boy who could lead me to wherever my services might be received, requested, or required.
Prepared and professional, and as I said, supplied with an appropriate wagon in which to make my internet rounds. A wagon so constructed that it resembled a small hearse, soberly painted black with purple and black bunting, black peacock feathers perched. Inside, my chemistry, camera box, plates, and suitable darkness within which to work. And while the moniker ‘Tintype’ was popular, I refused the name, the cheap and shoddy implication. Thus on both sides in broad gilded letters the words, ‘FERROTYPES - MEMENTO MORI.' I even dressed funereal, dark frock coat, starched white shirt, silk top hat.
Spring then, May, Seventy-One, and the citizenry of Cresent City were mad for Ferrotypes, for memento mori. Hungry for my graven little images of their dear departed. Families, who would not have thought such an expense worthy of a living child, opened their pocketbooks at death. With the wealthier, memorial pins were popular. Passepartout, too, presented in a lovely velvet case. For the poor, the basic small tin would do, and for an additional twenty cents, I’d throw a suitable collar or black ruffled gown over son or daughter and thus hide the shame of their meager funds. For some, no price was too much; fat politicians, gamblers, beautiful women, husbands of beautiful women, retired bankers, quadroons, wealthy widows, and Northerners seeking private gain. For others, I did it on the cheap, for the novelty, for the art; pimps and whores, crippled veterans, addicts, dirty little beggars, Chinamen and Negros, too.
So it was one warm and golden evening that Thelonious knocked upon my door, card in one hand, white rose in the other. Yes? I inquired from out of the thin slip of opened door, for I was still in my chamber robe, still in the twilight of early sleep before stepping out of an evening. Thelonious stretched out his hand. I took the card, the rose.
Soft evening light fell through the yellow curtains of the balcony doors. A slight breeze tinged with gardenia stirred the fabric. I sat on the bed, sniffed the rose, was about to open the card when I pricked my finger on the stem. That alone should have given me pause, portended what was to come. Then and there I should have torn up the request, tossed it aside, flung the rose from my wrought iron balcony to the avenue below. But I am not a man of superstition, as you shall see. Oh no, I am a man of stern and rationale sensibility.
Why I was inclined to bring the parchment to my nose, I cannot say. The paper imparted the slightest hint of perfume and candle wax. I found the card folded once, twice, oddly three times. The penmanship sat awkward, slanted, with a feverish toss and sway to the letters, decidedly feminine. The yellow card bore no name, only an address, St. Andrews Street, a corridor thick with shade and wealth in the Garden District. I read. I set the card down, lay back, rose to my nose, and contemplated the offer to call Sunday, mid-afternoon, and make a negative of a corpse.
Below, the avenue was just beginning to fill with life. I went and stood on the balcony. The twilight, made more golden by the day’s warmth, hung thick and pallid beneath the lining of the small oaks. A gust of wind emerged and tossed the limbs of the tree below. Moved onto the next and set those branches to sway. Then one by one, proceeded to flow up the avenue in the direction of the Théâtre de l'Opéra. Such a strange and wonderful world, the old Creole City, fallen under the blaze of late afternoon sun. Spanish beard draped through the larger oaks, resurrection fern, dense and gentle, wavered upon the bark. Voices, laughter, Mocking Birds, a piano from down the block, the steel wheels of the begger Solomon’s box rasping the bricks as he pushed his legless frame into deeper shade. Hackney-coachmen passed, tracing their carriages through the labyrinthine riddle of streets and alleys, shuttling lodgers, dropping off early diners. The scent of French perfume, cigars, onion, and chicory, wafting up each time the Hotel doors were opened.
Solomon, I called, though not loudly, for that would have been inelegant. A scrap of wheels as the begger pushed out from under the canopy of leaves across the street. He peered up, his jacket a faded Confederate gray, almost white, surrendered to the sun, time, and defeat. A cannon ball, the Battle of Sharpsburg, Antietam to the Yanks. Bateman’s Drops, I called. He tipped his dusty cap and rolled away.
Ah, Thursday evening then, Grand Opera night. Ambroise Thomas’ Mignon, was to debut and Adelina Patti, ‘The Spanish Songbird,’ was to sing. Thursday, the day in which I was inclined to take my weekly debauch of opium, Bateman’s Drops, a tincture commonly referred to as laudanum consisting of opium powder, saffron, oil of cinnamon and clove, which I mixed with bourbon. Laudanum, the gentle horse that pulled the cart of my contemplations diligently and without hurry of pace or destination. For some, the tincture brought on a spell of the trance and a longing for solitude and silence. But for me, the rosy drink, once active, lead me to vigorous peripatetic pursuits, lead me to wander thither. I thought I might venture to a Fancy, or the such like. Perhaps to a Concert Saloon, where the Waiter Girls were bawdy, performed the Cancan, sang, and where others paraded in the dirtiest markets of those common charms of which they had to sell.
I languidly dressed for dinner, taking from the wardrobe a clean shirt with pressed wing collar, dark tail coat and trousers, a dark rather than white waistcoat. I hung a gold watch chain, sadly absent the watch, brushed off the square-toed shoes, the silk topper. Selected a white narrow ribbon bow tie, smoothed back my graying hair, groomed my thin mustache. Oh to don a monocle with gold filled gallery. Perhaps Sunday’s shuttering would bring the needed funds. I was the barber’s block, I was, and with hat in hand I took up my fashionable ivory-handled walking stick, weighted for defense, and proceeded to the hallway.
Stench of urine, stale cigar smoke, darkened moldy carpet, the dim light and identical doors so callously numbered. The door to my neighbor's room hung open. Fat man in undershorts sleeping on a sagging bed. I gently closed the door, saving others from the grisly sight.
I have always had a disdain for such passageways. Hotel hallways cause my chest and throat to tighten, remind me of caskets, or caves, of being trapped and unable to breathe. Stairways are no better. Silence but for some stranger’s steps unseen below, a cough, echoey voices, a small window with squares of dreaming fallen sunlight. And descending lower, like submerging into a darkening airless sea, and then the relief of reaching the ground floor.
The lobby was velvety from the purple and gold gilded wallpaper, but even here the cast of sun shimmered brightly on the brass rails, doorknobs, reflected boldly on the picture frames, faded mirrors, as it filtered through the greenery of the street. Clustered on the vast sofas sat the men. Dandied bachelors telling quiet jokes and laughing. Older men smoking quietly, nodding, leaning forward occasionally to speak and then retreat. The women stood nearby with their courtly airs, talking softly, or not at all. Their true passions stifled by thick layers of fabric and morals. Their true forms hidden within caged structures of whalebone, cording, and leather. Curvaceous contours hanging on some flesh unimaginable, while their bound breasts sat unnatural, unappealing, stationary as those of marble statues.
Walking briskly across the room I nodded to the men; curl of the lip, disparaging smile, contemptuous smile, caught the eye of but a few of the women, and inquired with the desk clerk of further messages received. None. Inquired as to who might have dropped off the card. Was there upon his arrival.
Once on the avenue, I searched for Solomon the begger, listened for his wheels. Only the high squeal of a horse drawn trolly several blocks away, only the scampering calls of a hoard of begging rag-a-muffins suddenly at my side. What little vagabond bred twits, what grimy unwashed bastards. I popped one on the head with my cane. That set them off. Nasty spiel of taunts and threats as they ran off to find another victim.
I crossed the street and had not gone far when I spotted the begger pushing himself up the banquette with the same strength and efficiency as if he rowed a boat. Finding me approaching he stopped, his jacket dark with sweat, his face pinked from the exertion and the heat. I too stopped, looked into the windows of a cigar makers shop, pretended I had not noticed him. He had his goose, knew what his compensation would entail. Soon I heard the scrap of his wheels as he rolled up in his rugged cart made from old hewed boards, pile of musty army issue blankets on which to sit. He held out a bent and damaged cup in his calloused nub hardened fingers. Don’t you hold out that cup to me. He shook the cup. Tincture Thomas. Tincture Thomas. I looked at him hard. Stop saying that. He did a little dance with his shoulders. Tincture Thomas. Tincture Thomas. Don’t sing it either. Let me first have the dropper I sent you for. Pharmacist says time to settle the books. He does, does he? For a fact. Well, that’s why I sent you instead of going myself. Hand me the dropper, not your cup. The dropper. Thank you. Now hold out your cup. He gave a hopeful smile. Two, two, droppers, please Thomas. Only one. Two Tom. No, just the one. Two are forty drops. Might kill ya. Two Tom. Two Tom. One. Just enough to do more damage. Two Tom. Two Tom. Stop that. I held the bottle to the sun and slowly filled the dropper. I squirted the tincture into the cup he held forth. He frowned, placed his free hand on the banquette, looked away, refused my gaze, continued to hold out his cup. Two Tom. Two Tom. I inserted the dropper back into the bottle. But don’t give me that gleeful smile. Oh, the look your face. One for each of your damn legs. Wherever in God’s name they may be. He smiled. Sharpsburg. I slipped the bottle into my coat pocket. Sharpsburg, sure enough. And he was gone, scuttled off into some shadow, some darkened doorway, shanty shack, or abandoned coal bin.
So with cocked topper, tails flapping, walking stick punctuating the hard baked earth, I continued my way around the islet and down the alley, wanting to ensure that my horse had been brushed, watered, and feed. There I found Thelonious crouched near the wagon, on his knees, as if in prayer. He turned when he heard me, gestured to an array of disreputable objects before him, gave a low whistle. Gris-gris. A live rooster was tied to the spokes of one of the wheels, a rooster dressed, but not for roasting. The fowl appeared to be a crude caricature of myself for he too wore a dark coat, trousers, a little stove pipe hat. Sticking in its breast were nine silver pins, and sitting beside him a plate of congris, a mixture of black eyed peas and rice cooked with sugar. Five silver coins lay strewn on the straw. Gris-gris, yes? But I call it a devilish prank.
I crouched and held my breath for the stank of horse manure and piss, poked the rooster in the breast with the point of my cane, which set off a flurry of expansive flapping. The rooster, pins, coins, peas, were a rude talisman, no doubt intentionally left by those that held stock in such things, oily Negros home breed or just lately arrived from Haiti and other parts tropical, Freemen and women with a fondness for the spirits, nudity, and wild abandon. Charm or curse, I had no idea, but obviously meant for my observation and contemplation. I knew not what to make of the primitive display, could not fathom its intent or as to why it would be placed upon my property. The discovery pricked at me, made me feel uncomfortable, watched, singled out. Why here? Thelonious shrugged his thin shoulders, Vaudoux. Voodooiennes were not unknown to me. I had been in the city long enough and dwelled but a few blocks from Congo Park. I had stood at the fences and witnessed their wanton dances, their gross movements of leaping and suggestive writhings. I had heard their goat-skin drums, seen numerous displays of gris-gris in the St. Louis Cemetery and at the walls and gate of the Parish Prison. I knew of Doctor Beauregard, with his long hair trussed up in strange knots, knots in which he carried all manner of horrible paraphernalia of a witch doctor’s profession; bottles, oils, powders, dried reptiles, tiny bones. I knew of the Queen. I had seen her on several occasions. Everyone had. But why here in God’s name? Why me? The black suited rooster strutted forth and picked at the peas. Get rid it. Thelonious pulled back and sat in the straw. Bad luck to touch. The stable stench was getting to me. Get rid of it. Or find someone who will. I had to make my escape, longed to be on my way toward some cool dark room smelling of stale beer, whiskey, and oysters, where a long fingered Negro tapped across the bones of a piano seriously out of tune, and his two children danced, a little boy with the face of a grown man, and a girl awkward and shy.
I left Thelonious to clear away the heathenish exhibit and sauntered out onto the street, head lifted, chin set stern for the observation of any party responsible for the collection of comic, frivolous objects. Nonsense and superstition. I was above such play, such folly, or so I thought at the time.
The boy jigged over when he saw me enter the Saloon and led me by the hand to the bar where I procured two beers, one for myself and one for his father. He sloshed away taking a long drink of foam before setting the glass down on the floor beside his father’s stool. I inquired as to the condition of the oysters; fresh, yet warm, due to another famine of ice. Two barges from Illinois were expected on the morrow.
Shoulder to shoulder then at the bar, standing, all packed together, stranger against stranger, and turning to see who might be in the room. Several known to me, but only as images, only as figures caught on plates some remembered time in the past. Yes, I recall. The Holidays. How have you been? So you are going to the Opera, mon cher? But of course, you may have an oyster. I know they are warm but what is one to do? Swallow, mon cher. The Opera? No? Too bad. No, I shall not be here long, just a beer or two and the oysters, and I shall have to be on my way. You are welcome to have another. Well then, have a good evening. Shoulder to shoulder at the bar. How are the children since your wife passed? A terrible thing. Yes. Yes. Perhaps I could look into that for you. Shoulder to shoulder. Tintypes? You must mean Ferrotypes? Yes, I could see you Monday afternoon shall we say. The Hotel Dieu. Just a note of your address with the clerk. I will see you then. Shoulder to shoulder. In the City for just over four years. Hilton Head before that. Before that? Well, the late unpleasantness. The War of course. Receiving permission from commanding generals to establish myself within an encampment. Portraits of the soldiers, mementos for them to send back home. Then silence. Except for the beer glasses clinking on the bar. Except for the murmur of the crowd and the frantic piano. Except for the rattle of carriages down Bourbon Street as they careened toward the Opera House. The room floated in the looking glass above the bar; shadows, open mouths, flashing gestures, and the smiling faces of all the gay young men. Suddenly I was looking through my camera, catching the light, peering through to some other side. Voices, other voices, and the cannon thump, and the War suddenly lifting up gaudy and harrowing before me in the mirror. Screams, bugles sounding, flash and smoke of muskets, horses hooves, saber rattle. Then the silence of the battlefield after the regiments had moved on. Shuttering of the dead. Wandering the land of death with wagon and camera while burial parties laid them out shoulder to shoulder before their shallow graves. Young men lying opened eyed, some with hands clenched, faces drawn with agony, others looking mildly amused, almost smiling. Legless, armless forms swam in the mirror, and I forced myself to divert my eyes, watched the two young dancers instead. I’m sorry. You were saying?
Beer drunk, oysters consumed, I swung out under the illuminations of the gas lamps hissing in the cooling breeze. The Opera House was but a few blocks distant, and a dense crowd moved along Bourbon and Toulouse under the umbrellas of golden light. Loud chatter of conversations, gossip, chopped up laughter, jostling elbows, as the finely dressed ladies and gentlemen strolled along with those less refined or cultivated, those directly curious, waifs, street vendors, laborers ladened with the odor of hard work. Horse pulled street cars rattled past packed with uptown Opera goers, and upon stopping the cars spewed forth a new crowd. They then pushed and shoved their way onto the banquettes, all wanting to gather long before the doors were open and be the first to rush up to the second or third tier to secure their modest seats. Others lined the street as the dark carriages queued up down the block and watched silently as the beautifully attired women stepped out of their carriages.