Marcus Bruce Christian: “I am New Orleans” and “The Masquerader”

Marcus Bruce Christian as a boy_probably around 1912

Marcus Bruce Christian as a boy_probably around 1912

Marcus Bruce Christian in the 1960s

Marcus Bruce Christian in the 1960s

Marcus Bruce Christian
(1900 – 1976, Louisiana poet, historian and folklorist)
. . .
I am New Orleans: A Poem (excerpts)
I have known
Many people –
Many voices –
Many languages.
I have heard the soft cries of the African,
Jargoning an European tongue:
Belles des figures!
Bon petit calas! Tout chauds, chère, tout chauds!
Pralines – pistaches! Pralines – pecanes!
“Ah got duh nice yahlah bananas, lady!”
“Bla-a-a-a-a-ack ber-r-r-r-r-r-e-e-e-e-z!”
“Peenotsa! Peenotsa! Cuma gitta fromee!”
“Ah wanna qua’tee red beans,
Ena qua’tee rice,
Ena piece uh salt meat –
Tuh makkit tas’e nice:
En hurry up, Mr. Groceryman,
En put dat lan-yap in mah han’!”
“Papa Bonnibee, beat dem hot licks out! –
Ah sed, Poppa Stoppa, let dat jazz cum out!
En efyuh donh feet it,
‘Tain’t no use tellin’ yuh
Jess what it’s all about!
Now, gimme sum High Cs on dat horn ‘n’ let dem
Saints go marching in!”
Way Down Yonder In New Orleans…
Take it away, Mister Charlie!”
. . .
I am New Orleans,
A perpetual Mardi Gras
Of wild Indians, clowns, lords and ladies,
Bourbon Street Jezebels, Baby Dolls, and Fat Cats;
Peanut-vendors, flower-sellers, organ-grinders,
chimney-sweepers, and fortune-tellers.
And then, at the end, bone-rattling skeletons
and flying ghosts.
I am New Orleans –
A city that is a part of, and yet apart from all,
A collection of contradictory environments;
A conglomeration of bloods and races and classes
and colours;
Side-by-side, the New tickling the ribs of the Old;
Cheek-by-jowl, the Ludicrous making faces at the Sublime.

. . .

The Masquerader

Here, as a guest esteemed,
I do not hide;
None would dare laugh at me –
None dare deride.
For I am white now –
Far whiter than you;
How did I get that way?
Ah! if you knew!
You have been very nice!
Took me to tea,
Took me to dinners –
And made love to me.
You have been very kind –
Begged for a date –
Me — in whose veins there flows
Blood that you hate.
I, who am cherished
And part of your joy –
I am more alien than
Those you employ.
You say I am a dream?
Dreams do not last.
When I am lost to you,
Whisper, “She passed.”

. . .


I shall take your image

From out of my heart

And sweep your tracks

From its floor,


Dead yesterdays

And you.

Step by step,

As you walk away,

I go behind you

Sweeping . . .

Sweeping . . .

. . .
Inconvenient Love

Love is an inconvenient thing –
Out of nowhere it slips,
And grows into something that saves or slays,
Or something that binds or grips;
And it sets a seal upon one’s lips.
Love has its own peculiar way –
Knowing its own blind art;
Bending strong souls like reeds to the wind,
And then – when it does depart –
Stamping in frantic and frenzied pain
A signet upon one’s heart.
. . .

Bachelor’s Apartment

The curtains from Daphne,
The curtains from Chloe;
The doilies from Helen;
The pillows from Flo;
The towels from Myrtle,
The teapot from Rose;
The book-ends from Marion –
Anything goes!
The comb-set from Muriel,
The lampshade from Delia;
The picture from Mabel,
The vases from Celia;
From Bertha – the candlesticks;
Those women left things
In my heart and my home!
. . .
The Craftsman
I ply with all the cunning of my art
This little thing, and with consummate care
I fashion it—so that when I depart,
Those who come after me shall find it fair
And beautiful. It must be free of flaws—
Pointing no labourings of weary hands;
And there must be no flouting of the laws
Of beauty—as the artist understands.
Through passion, yearnings infinite—yet dumb—
I lift you from the depths of my own mind
And gild you with my soul’s white heat to plumb
The souls of future men. I leave behind
This thing that in return this solace gives:
“He who creates true beauty ever lives.”

. . .
After the Years…

After the years have carted away

The grief and the shame;

After the years have carted away

The crime and the lust;

After the years have carted away

The faith and the trust:

After the years have carted them all

I claim

–The humblest claim–

Oblivion in the dust.

. . .
The Dreamer
(for Arturo Toscanini)

I am the dreamer – one whose dream
Is a diaphanous strange thing;
I top the crags, I bridge the stream,
I make the dead page glow and sing.
I plumb the depths, I count the stars,
I strain the sinews of my soul
To break through earth’s material bars
And seek perfection at its goal.
For I he who never halts –
I never say, “This task is done.”
I climb through subterranean vaults
To tilt my lance against the sun.
I am the essence of all art –
Javelins of gold from darkness hurled
Into the light – I break my heart
To set my dream against the world.

. . .
Source for the above poems:
I Am New Orleans & Other Poems By Marcus B. Christian, edited by Rudolph Lewis & Amin Sharif
. . .

ZP Editor’s note:

Tuesday, February 9th (Mardi Gras, 2016):

Wishing to feature Black History Month poems for Mardi Gras in New Orleans, we chanced upon a poet too little known: Marcus Bruce Christian. Themes of love and loss, love across “the colour line”, labour and economic struggle, and the spirit of place (I am New Orleans: A Poem) run throughout Christian’s close to 2000 poems. Our Special Thanks to editor Rudolph Lewis of Chicken Bones: A Journal, for introducing us to this fine poet from the past!

. . . . .