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Reciting a poem about New Orleans on a Key West street corner

I became a poet three years ago when I returned to Miami after a ten-year hiatus and enrolled in a creative writing class at FIU taught by James W. Hall, who has always been one of my favorite writers.

Hall showed me that poetry does not have to be an abstract babble of boredom written by


I became a poet three years ago when I returned to Miami after a ten-year hiatus and enrolled in a creative writing class at FIU taught by James W. Hall, who has always been one of my favorite writers.

Hall showed me that poetry does not have to be an abstract babble of boredom written by dead white men, but sometimes the only method to express what’s in your heart.

I began using poetry as an outlet for my political rage. And I’ve taken this rage up on stage at various spoken word venues throughout town over the last three years.

I became a videographer last year when I visited Key West in April with my then-girlfriend, who had one of those small Canon cameras that allow you to shoot video.

As a born storyteller, I became fascinated with both poetry and videography because they were added elements to the storytelling process.

I was so fascinated with videography after the Key West trip, I ended up buying a Canon TX1 and then a Canon HG10. And I even started getting paid assignments by the end of the year. And now I’m saving up to buy the Canon XH A1.

Here is a clip from that Key West weekend. We had been walking down Duval Street when we came across these jazz musicians from New Orleans. They were in between sets so we asked if we could film them. Yes, I know I didn’t have to ask, but I wanted everybody to be at ease.

When they started playing, I became possessed by the music and started reciting a poem I had written about New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Like many of the decisions I’ve made in my lifetime, my decision to start reciting poetry was purely impulsive. I even caught my ex-girlfriend off guard, which is why she wasn’t even filming me when I started the poem.

There is something spiritual about New Orleans jazz and blues that takes control of my soul. I guess it is that voodoo vibe.

In seeing the video, I realize that I need to slow the poem down to make it more effective.

This was only the second time I had recited the poem without the written words in front of me. The first time was at the Medical Marijuana Benefit Concert in Tobacco Road a few months earlier where I performed with a local jazz band. All the times before that and since, I’ve recited the poem without music and it’s not nearly as powerful.

I think I did a fairly decent job considering this collaboration with musicians was completely unrehearsed and unplanned (the performance at Tobacco Road was planned, but unrehearsed).

I think I was rushing through the poem because on the back of my mind, I was wondering if these musicians were annoyed about me reciting poetry to their music.

They told me afterwards they really liked it. And they were insistent on seeing the video. They said it reminded them of playing in San Francisco where people have walked up to them and started reciting poetry. But nothing like that has ever happened to them in Florida.

I had written the poem in the weeks after Hurricane Katrina drowned New Orleans. I had been in New Orleans only a year earlier as drove back to Miami from Phoenix and the memories were still vivid. And I had been to the Big Easy three times before that, always coming home with memorable experiences.

The poem is actually much longer than what was captured on the video. I posted it in its entirety below.

La Mort á Nouvelle-Orleans (The Death of New Orleans)
Carlos Miller©2005

I remember New Orleans, the first time around
I was underage and you allowed me to drink freely
And for that I respected you dearly.
Those oversize beers. That carefree spirit. Just what an 18-year-old needed.

I remember my uncle wrestling a female stripper in a Bourbon Street bar
As a transvestite ring announcer played guitar
And the man next to me smoked a smelly cigar.
I was under your spell, for that scene never seemed bizarre.

I remember the jazz and the blues and that voodoo vibe, the way you had that jovial jive

I remember New Orleans, the second time around.
Mardi Gras, purple beads, flowing booze, flashing boobs
That girl with the rose tattoo.
Five days and nights of drunken debauchery, derelict duties and depraved deeds.

I remember confusing Cajun with Creole and consuming crawfish in the Quarter,
And kissing a girl named Katrina in a crowded club called Cat’s Meow
Katrina, I told her, your name is so sexy
Corona, she told me, my glass is so empty

I remember the jazz and the blues and that voodoo vibe, the way you had that jovial jive

I remember New Orleans, the third time around.
New Years Eve. Sugar Bowl.
Canes. Gators.
Brawls on Bourbon.
Sweet Superdome. Innocence unscathed.
The horrors to come, years away.

Hurricanes routed, we got rowdy
Hurricane cocktails, fueled the party
The night was spent, boasting on Bourbon.
Canes in the house, don’t even try it

I remember the jazz and the blues and that voodoo vibe, the way you had that jovial jive

I remember New Orleans, the fourth time around
A five-day stop on a road trip home.
I was alone and free to roam.
I played chess with a man named Hal on Canal, the street that drowned living up to its name.
I drank a hurricane in the August rain, still thinking that Katrina was a sexy name.

Beignets at Café du Monde
Muffelata’s from Central Grocery
Shrimp po’ boys from The Alibi.
It was hard to say good-bye, but my money was running dry
And my time was passing by.

I remember the jazz and the blues and that voodoo vibe, the way you had that jovial jive

I remember Katrina when she was just a flirting storm, teasing Miami’s coast like a virgin whore.
I remember inviting her inside, and how she pushed me aside, removing that mask and revealing that bitch inside.

I remember Katrina headed for your coast, I am woman, hear me roar
Show me this city of legend lore.
No longer the virgin whore, but a hardcore witch out for war.

I remember Katrina barreling into the bayou, lashing at you as she swept right by you
Lacerating your levees and liquidating your streets, littering your homes with lifeless limbs

I remember how they left you to die as Nero ate cake and fiddled with his fly.
As you clung to your rooftops, water neck high, telling the world you were still alive.

I remember your cries, your demands for help
Please get us out of here, it’s a living hell
And I remember the crime was broadcast live around the world
La mort à Nouvelle-orléans. Una tristezza

And I remember how on the fifth day after you had passed away
Nero arrived and the band began to play

Oh here he comes, oh here he comes
Oh when the Smirk comes marching in
Everything must stop, for another photo op
Oh when the Smirk comes marching in

And I remember thinking how I will never forget the jazz and the blues and that voodoo vibe, the way you had that jovial jive

And I remember thinking of the people I met the year before, that sultry summer of 2004.
The hustlers, the jokers, the street performers, the musicians, the artists, the waiters, the bartenders
That creative culture of Cajuns and Creoles and Color
That was not afraid to cry out and say

Be free, be yourself, and to hell with everybody else

And I remember realizing how much of you they must despise, which is why they turned a blind eye
Leaving you to your demise

And I remember how they said they’re going to rebuild you, bigger and better than ever
And I knew that meant richer and whiter forever

And I was left mourning.
Too angry to respect your death with a jazzy New Orleans-style funeral procession.
There would be no more dancing on Decatur.

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