Wayne’s Second Line

cassandra halleh delaney  
New Orleans’ second lines flummoxed me.
Where I come from, public displays of grief are considered self-indulgent.
We eat our grief bite by bite, chewing it down like cold grizzled meat
silently and alone.
 
Hiring a brass band and dancing through the streets
seemed an impossibly sweet alternative, in theory
but death doesn’t co-operate, it kicks
like an ornery tomboy who won’t be wrestled into a frilly dress.
 
My friend’s friend died suddenly, smack in the middle of everything.
His play was about to be produced, his love life going spectacularly.
 
What was supposed to be a stomachache revealed tumors
then cancer, then stage four cancer, then done… done.
In a matter of days, barely enough time to take a breath
just enough time for him to say, amid the mounting test results
he would like a second line, if he died.
 
So, here we are and it’s not sweet.
It’s hot as blazes at mid-day in late July. We gather
beneath a sun that’s just as happy to cook our skulls as grow us flowers
sweating out grief like a fever.
 
We wave white handkerchiefs, the tradition
looks jaunty when other people do it, but my arm tires quickly
and I have to keep switching hands.
 
I imagine us seen from above, by God… angles… aliens
who study our odd human customs.
Do we look like we’re waving the white flag of surrender?
Protesting? Celebrating?
 
This one man whose life popped like a soap bubble, leaving a vacuum
so acute, I’m afraid my friend might fall in too.
 
This procession is a head count, the ones left
piling onto the “life” side of the teeter-totter, proving
there’s still enough love here to make the daily journey
from bed to the world and back again worth the grunt work.
 
I flap my handkerchief, wishing I had a second one to wave
like semi fours signaling, “not fair.” We keep pace behind the slow moving hearse
bounce-step though the French Quarter
even smile to passersby.

 

Author Bio

Cassandra Halleh Delaney is originally from upstate New York. She has a Master’s degree in Counseling and Educational Psychology from New Mexico State University and currently resides in New Orleans, Louisiana. Her work has appeared in *82 REview, Qutub Minar, Fine Lines, October Hill, Gateway, Sugar House, and Pear Noir. 
 
 
 

C.Delaney shadow photo