In March of 2002, nine writers and poets traveled to New Orleans. We rented a house just off Rampart. My husband and I took the smallest suite, while the men took the other suite downstairs, and the women had the entire upper floor. The house had a second-floor balcony just wide enough to sit down with your legs crossed. We walked everywhere we went, all the way to St. Charles Avenue and back to the Quarter, up and down Canal Street, and to Saint Louis Cemetery #1 to see the grave of Marie Laveau.
New Orleans felt magic to me. Its sensory landscape powered my walking: an umami scent from an alley, glittering beads in spring trees, the twang of a washboard street band. I felt overwhelmingly charmed and greedy, like I was taking pleasure from the city without returning the favor. I began to drop dollar bills near street corners where I was sure someone would find them.
The mausoleum of Madame Laveau had been turned into a hands-on shrine, crude Xs canceling each other out on its walls, and its small plot covered with offerings, faded plastic flowers, beads, cups of water, a brand new cigar. Near the edge, I saw a small shard of pottery, what had once been part of a decorative clay pot. The shard had an intricate beaded design, as if some ancient Etruscan had rolled small pieces of wet clay between her fingers and then pressed them into a line.
I lusted after the pottery shard because it had been given to honor Marie Laveau. I felt compelled to take it. But I knew I had to leave something in return or my desire might get me cursed. I found a brand new tube of lipstick that I had bought for the trip and placed it on the ground with the other offerings. I picked up the shard and imagined its energy, ceremony twined with decay.
The small piece of pottery lives on my kitchen window sill where the morning sun touches it even in winter. I don’t worry that a thief will break in and steal it. Its looks do not reveal its value.