Because there was a giant cardboard Moulin Rouge windmill on top of it, I was driving my sister’s car very slowly. Mardi Gras proceeds deliberately. So slowly people can get in and out of the car/float in progress.
Somebody got in the passenger seat. We chatted about history in the area, Mardi Gras and otherwise. They’d been having Mardi Gras in Kansas City since someone was there. This time of year, people are cold and hungry, he said. They share. We chatted about Lecompton, Kansas, a place that has been circling me since I got myself out there to see it.
And about the West Indian parade I lived so close to, in Brooklyn, and about other festivals of making and beauty, other places. That one, while beautiful, was a little hard for me to see, because I was always a spectator, always would be, and I love events without spectators, dance floors made of dancers.
He was holding sage out the window and a reveler walked by and was like, “Whoa! I aint never seen a joint like that!” and he said, “It’s sage.”
Mardi Gras afternoon, there was: “I’m gonna lay down my sword and shield/down by the riverside,” and “ain’t gonna study war no more.” I had no idea how to do that, but it sounded like a good idea.
I jumped out myself, so I could be under the overpass when the sound rings full, physical sound, that tells you how human bodies are like brass and like wood, are wet, smooth, hollow.
I grieved to miss it, the years I did.
I decided to go to services, Ash Wednesday, maybe only because I couldn’t imagine how I would feel if I didn’t go. I had in the back of my mind some unbearable pain I might experience if I really, really, really didn’t believe. As someone who’s been too anxious to get out of bed, I mean, what is worse that that?
The church is two blocks from my house, all wood paneling, no painting, and at night the stained glass windows are dead, as things are, in the dark. The woman sitting in front of me was looking up, I thought at the ceiling, which is the prettiest part, woven with different tones of wood. No, a bird! A bird! What’s better than birds inside? No one knows what to do!
We had chatted about Mardi Grases past: fires, snows. Things I sometimes wish were written, and sometimes I am gladder they could, like all stories, become feeble, waver, recover, fade, grow, reseed.
The priest got up, and he said there was a bat in the belfry. Even better! If it pooped on me, at Ash Wednesday, what a story that would be.
I liked hearing, “We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see– we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.”
Both windmills made it all the way to 18th and Vine (one of the four cradles of jazz, thank you, as I taught all the New Yorkers I taught ). When the party turned, as parties do, we tiptoed out, untied the ropes and ribbons that haphazardly had held the toppers to the tops. Put them on the backseat. And I drove home, and I stood in the warm water and scrubbed and scrubbed my face.
Image: Jeremias Ritter, Powder Flask, Metropolitan Museum of Art.