If you’ve visited New Orleans in the recent years and strolled around the French Quarter or down Frenchman Street at night, there’s a chance you’ve seen a young lady sitting with a manual typewriter at a desk that has a cardboard sign advertising a “Poet For Hire” affixed to it. Her name is Erin Lierl.
With that said, Tom Lennon, one of our favorite comedy people, and his wife Jenny have been in New Orleans vacationing all week (he’s been tweeting about it and posting pics to Instagram regularly) and yesterday he ran into young Erin, which I’d suspected when I saw that he’d posted the photo above along with the note, “‘Poem is ready’ is the kind text you get in New Orleans.” After picking up the poem Erin wrote for him, a poem about his dog, he posted it to Instagram, and I was so taken by it that I just had to share it here.
Isn’t that just beautiful?
I turned toward Canal and walked down to the corner of Dumaine and Bourbon. Bourbon Street was blocked off as it is at night and an enormous crowd filled the streets as far as I could see. Music from an outdoor concert three blocks away washed over the crazed revelers. I love to watch people and this was a fantastic place to do so.
Then I noticed someone who seemed beautifully and oddly out of place. Tucked back against one of the buildings, was a fresh-faced young woman sitting in a folding chair behind a tiny, makeshift desk. She was surrounded by the dense crowd literally falling out of the open doors of the burgeoning Cafe Lafitte in Exile across the street. Revelers high above on the balcony called those in the packed street below. Before her sat an old-fashioned manual typewriter. Most people her age have never even seen a manual typewriter (or an electric one for that matter), much less used one. Taped to the edge of her “desk” was a small cardboard sign with a hand written message: “Poet for Hire.”
This was an unexpected sight to say the least. She was not a “street person,” along with the fortune tellers or street performers around Jackson Square. She seemed serious and vulnerable sitting there. I ventured over and asked what she was doing. She said she was a writer and this was her practice – to write publicly. I asked how it worked and she replied that I could tell her something I had been thinking or maybe some idea or a word of interest and she would write a poem for a donation. I immediately dug into my wallet while telling her what I had been thinking during my walk following my solitary dinner. She seemed to understand. Then, she took out two small pieces of paper, sandwiched an equal sized piece of carbon paper between them (who uses carbon paper anymore?), rolled it into the typewriter, and began. I excused myself to fight my way through the crowd to use the bathroom at Lafitte’s, partially so I would not be standing over her as she wrote. Never mind that she was surrounded by thousands of very raucous people, but now we had a kind of spontaneous and unspoken intimacy that required respect.
When I returned, she was still writing, so I sat down next to her on the sidewalk amid the empty Red Bull cans and scattered beer bottles. I just sat in silence as she tapped away amid the chaos. In a few minutes I heard the unmistakable sound of paper being extracted from the roller of an ancient typewriter and she handed me my poem. Here is what she had written.
We party like pirates
who are going to be ghosts tomorrow
The streets are stained
with sweat and rain
The brick walls rent by the shifting earth
and in the fissure the hot green rot
of new life, licking at the flames
It is our pain
These gaping wounds
that make way for the river
that flows through us all
making us beautiful places to visit
Aching and crumbling
and crying make sweet breaking music
A trilling trumpet on the air:
One last drowning cry.
Bourbon Street, New Orleans
August 4, 2010 (she had entered the incorrect month, which I liked)
I was speechless. She had really heard me, and beyond that, she had penetrated my evening musings in a way we intend in our Inquiry sessions here at Appamada. She took my first thought and moved it deeper and opened it further. This is what we hope to do for each other as spiritual friends. In this case, we had made a tiny, temporary island of connection in the roiling humanity and humidity of Bourbon Street. Aside from the content of the poem itself, (which was stunning) this very young woman had appeared mysteriously, in an unlikely place and time, and had touched me with her wisdom and compassion. I walked back by her again later that night returning to my hotel. She was writing for herself amidst the even more inebriated crowd. I hoped to find her the next day but she was gone.
I’ve been meaning to have Erin write a poem for me for a while and now I’m more determined than ever to track her down, as right now I could really use someone peering into my soul and putting whatever light or darkness she sees into beautiful words. Pardon me while I go out to look for her, will you?