Third place winner of Bookshop's annual short story contest, 2012.
Marcellus Babineaux, Street Musician
by Jeff Burt
May you live long Marcellus Babineaux, and whisper your Cajun curses until your voice dies down.
May you keep playing washboard and street side Zydeco, and keep telling us of thirteen crayfish caught in the river on a single morning in May by leaning into a pocket of backwater with only a stick and a hook and the wide branch pushing your sternum so hard into your chest you thought your heart would burst, the crayfish lolling, waiting for anything the river would carry into their outstretched claws, a mirror of yourself on the fallen tree.
May you live out the hauntings of Katrina that drove you west, your three days in the tomb of an attic while the floodwaters swirled beneath before a lifeline dropped, the helicopter’s blades like the gears of time re-opening and minutes and seconds ticking again.
May the wheels of your Safeway cart stay greased and intact and the rubber not erode and the welds not wobble.
May you wear a brightly colored scarf or three depending on the day and your floppy hat with a beanie tucked underneath, and may the mismatch of plaid and stripes go unnoticed or adopted by a brave new crew.
May your cologne cover the river bridge’s dankness, and may your curses of happiness cover your darkness.
May your hunt for the other matching red Converse not go without trophy, though the green pair makes you look like walking Christmas, your smile all lit up and magnificence and good wishes pouring from inside those teeth.
May you talk shrimp and jambalaya as Gulf fish soup when the meal is vegetarian.
May you stop talking long enough to finish a cup of coffee when it is hot.
May more than the cops know that you are safe when you sing in a language we cannot understand, draped with lichen over tree branches and the gloom of a swamp.
May you sing the songs of Hank Williams and Jerry Lee Lewis, and cry like Jimmy Swaggert, may you sing the hushed lullabies you sang to your children to yourself as bed down one fall under the bridge, a spring by the thicket by K-Mart, a summer in a shed.
May you play your fiddle out of its red velvet case, and may the pennies turn into quarters, the singles turn into fives, the gig in front of the bookstore lead to a gig in front of the kitchen.
May you go to Mass and sit in the front pew instead of the back, and may the priest finally remember your name, Marcellus, not Michael, not Marceau, not Marcel, but Marcellus, Marcellus Babineaux.
May you find your Evangeline in the Sisters of Mercy before death.
May your two gold teeth always glisten.
May the voodoo you fear be taken by the angels you see standing on the ridge by the holy cross.
May the chicken always be stewed and moist and tender so that your missing molars may not be missed, may the lentils continue to remind you of the hand-made buttons your mother made for the shirts that you wore to school, may the letters of pasta remind you of the wooden letters she would set on the table before breakfast joined like a train so that you could learn a new word, may the okra remind you of okra, the texture and warmth of the South.
May you continue to walk the good walk, and talk the good talk, even though life has suppressed and depressed and repressed you.
May you look at the ocean one day without fear, not cringe when a wild wind blows, not sob when the skies deluge, not run in panic when a rogue wave sprays your face or a fulgent and fulminating sky brings death to visit on the doorstep of your soul.
May you know again the ribcage of your woman missing for six years, her bones as hollow as a bird’s, so light that you could lift her with one hand.
May you walk without stiffness, and may your knees rise up to meet your elbows and may you stretch your six-feet and one-inch of muscles and tendons from the fetal fold you cradle yourself in morning and afternoon and night and lead your mind and psyche with anticipation towards the long span to the rest of your life.
May you run into the low waters of the river at ebb tide and send the seagulls squawking and the children laughing again.
May you not die alone.