Aug 30, 2009 by

In New Orleans, a cemetery is a place where life is welcome. 

Here lives music and art and wild mystery, a place where children may remain children and puritanical rituals of gloom are run off on a rail. Here a stand is made against the passing of time, where rare splendors partner-up with dust and ash, where sadness cuts to the bone but is banished before long – and a first line of defense is drawn against the inevitable gone-too-soon.

In New Orleans there exists a delicate truce with all preconception of mortality and hereafter; be they scriptured, scripted, believed, doubted, lied-about or wildly-guessed. It is a truce renegotiated every hour of every day over chicory and smoke and liquor and sometimes something stronger but always with love and always with respect.

Here is where life’s brevity is acute, where the dead share altitude with the living, where the waters rise too soon, too fast; taking, taking; but sometimes to give back, to guide the sorrow-blind and ghostly to and beneath the short and chopping waves that surround, to a place of mysterious finality called Spiritworld, where grand reunions are awaited, where ancient and bittersweet prayers are at long last addressed in no uncertain terms. 

The divine is made human in this juncture of beauty and decay, and so the heavy brows of Catholic saints are aligned and have sameness with African lwas, their holy burdens shared and lightened like the music that connects them, standing together as one, with upright backs and shoulders broad enough to carry us through the rain and into the sun-crazed light of day.

The grieving who enter this yard of plain brick and stone, humble and holy, on hands and knees; these ones will give themselves over. Caught up as they are, helpless and trembling as children, they will let go. There is no way for them but to surrender in sound and spirit, to fall backwards into the arms of un-provable faiths, to allow their souls the momentary luxury of deathly plummet; through to the hollow bounce of rock bottom, to suffer ecstasies unreal shot out through the business end of a trumpet, soaring ever skyward to the waiting arms of life, of love, of having survived the unthinkable a hundred times over, and now once more.

And still yet again.

In New Orleans to run from death is to leave life behind. They are intertwined, these things. We know this, we accept this, and this is who we are.

In New Orleans everything that has gone to ash only serves to inspire and invigorate the living. In death, we weave our souls into the fabric of the collective memory. In death we invent life anew.

–Louis Maistros, August 30, 2009


Louis Maistros is the author of the New Orleans novel, The Sound of Building Coffins.

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