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About this poet

Poet and performance artist Jayne Cortez was born on May 10, 1934, in Fort Huachuca, Arizona.

Her books of poetry include On the Imperial Highway: New and Selected Poems (Hanging Loose Press, 2008), The Beautiful Book (Bola Press, 2007), Jazz Fan Looks Back (Hanging Loose Press, 2002), Somewhere in Advance of Nowhere (Serpent's Tail, 1997), Coagulations: New and Selected Poems (1982), Poetic Magnetic (1991), Firespitter (1982), Mouth on Paper (1977), Scarifications (1973), and Pissstained Stairs and the Monkey Man's Wares (1969).

Her work has been translated into twenty-eight languages. Cortez has also released a number of recordings, many with her band The Firespitters, including Taking the Blues Back Home (1997), Cheerful & Optimistic (1994), Everywhere Drums (1991), and Maintain Control (1986).

In 1964, she founded the Watts Repertory Company, and in 1972, she formed her own publishing company, Bola Press. Her awards include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York Foundation for the Arts, the International African Festival Award, and the American Book Award. Cortez performed, lectured, and taught at many universities, museums, and festivals. She lived in Dakar, Senegal, and New York City. She died on December 28, 2012.

Talking About New Orleans

Jayne Cortez, 1934 - 2012
Talking about New Orleans
About deforestation & the flood of vodun paraphernalia
the Congo line losing its Congo
the funeral bands losing their funding
the killer winds humming intertribal warfare hums into
two storm-surges
touching down tonguing the ground
three thousand times in a circle of grief
four thousand times on a levee of lips
five thousand times between a fema of fangs
everything fiendish, fetid, funky, swollen, overheated
and splashed with blood & guts & drops of urinated gin
			     in syncopation with me
riding through on a refrigerator covered with
asphalt chips with pieces of ragtime music charts
torn photo mug shots & pulverized turtle shells from Biloxi
		     me bumping against a million-dollar oil rig
me in a ghost town floating on a river on top of a river
	     me with a hundred ton of crab legs
	     	     and no evacuation plan
me in a battered tree barking & howling with abandoned dogs
my cheeks stained with dried suicide kisses
my isolation rising with a rainbow of human corpse &  
     			     fecal rat bones
where is that fire chief in his big hat
where are the fucking pumps
the rescue boats
& the famous coalition of bullhorns calling out names
	    hey     I want my red life jacket now
& I need some sacred sandbags
some fix-the-levee-powder
some blood-pressure-support-juice
some get-it-together-dust
some lucky-rooftop-charms &
some magic-helicopter-blades
I'm not prepared
to live on the bottom of the water like Oshun
I don't have a house built on stilts
I can't cross the sea like Olokun
I'm not equipped to walk on water like Marie Laveau
or swim away from a Titanic situation like Mr. Shine
Send in those paddling engineers
I'm inside of my insides
& I need to distinguish
between the nightmare, the mirage,
the dream and the hallucination
Give me statistics
how many residents died while waiting
how many drowned
how many suffocated
how many were dehydrated
how many were separated
how many are missing
how many had babies
and anyway
who's in charge of this confusion
this gulf coast engulfment
this displacement
this superdome shelter
this stench of stank
this demolition order
this crowded convention center chaos
making me crave solitary confinement

Am I on my own
exhausted from fighting racist policies
exhausted from fighting off sex offenders
exhausted from fighting for cots for tents for trailers
for a way out of this anxiety  this fear  this emptiness
this avoidance  this unequal opportunity world of
disappointments accumulating in my undocumented eye
of no return tickets

Is this freedom  is this global warming  is this the new identity
me riding on a refrigerator through contaminated debris
talking to no one in particular
about a storm that became a hurricane
& a hurricane that got violent and started
eyeballing & whistling & stretching toward
a category three domination that caught me in
	     the numbness of my own consciousness
	        unprepared, unprotected and
	           made more vulnerable to destabilization
by the corporate installation of human greed, human poverty
human invention of racism & human neglect of the environment

I mean even Buddy Bolden came back to say
	     move to higher ground
	       because a hurricane will not
	           rearrange its creativity for you
& the river will meet the ocean in
	    	     the lake of your flesh again
so move to higher ground
and let your jungle find its new defense
let the smell of your wisdom restore the power of pure air
& let your intoxicated shoreline rumble above & beyond the
water-marks of disaster

I'm speaking of New Orleans of deportation
of belching bulldozers   of poisonous snakes
of bruised bodies   of instability and madness
mechanism of indifference and process of elimination
I'm talking about transformation about death re-entering life with
Bonne chance, bon ton roulé, bonjour & bonne vie in New Orleans, bon

From On the Imperial Highway: New and Selected Poems by Jayne Cortez. Copyright © 2009 by Jayne Cortez. Used by permission of Hanging Loose Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Jayne Cortez

Poet and performance artist Jayne Cortez was born in Fort Huachuca, Arizona.

by this poet

poem
I crisscrossed with Monk
Wailed with Bud
Counted every star with Stitt
Sang "Don't Blame Me" with Sarah
Wore a flower like Billie
Screamed in the range of Dinah
& scatted "How High the Moon" with Ella Fitzgerald
as she blew roof off the Shrine Auditorium
                    Jazz at the Philharmonic
					
I