When I was 19, I fell in love with a poet. When I was 23, the relationship ended, and I was left with a deep-rooted friendship, a head full of lovely words and experiences, new interests, poems, books, films, and most importantly, an extended family that gratefully asked to keep me. For the past ten years, Stella Jane and Ken Meaux have let me stay in the inner circle of their light, a magical place where we all sit in a cozy kitchen in Kaplan, Louisiana and talk about ghosts and life and recipes over strong coffee. It’s a relationship that has evolved into something that I can’t quite describe in words. For me, they exist as the physical embodiment of mystery. They fill my heart up with stories. Each visit is a release, a renewal. Confession is a long drive followed by cake and coffee. Communion is a bowl of red beans and rice. Salvation is a blanket in the sun encircled by the hymn of birdsong. Mr. Ken, also known as “The Great Boudini” (Google it), still performs magic shows on the weekends and is slowly perfecting his performance for his last “BIG show,” an event that will be held in a small haunted cabin in the woods.
THE HOUSE ON GOLDEN GRAIN ROAD
Eight miles East from Kaplan on Golden Grain road sits an old house with a rusted tin roof and boarded up windows. It is guarded by an angry rooster and a pair of chickens. The small field across the street is littered with white tombstones. It’s a forgotten cemetery that is always bright and baking in the sun. For the past nine years, on each visit, I make a special trip past the rice and crawfish fields to see this house. I take pictures of it from every angle, always trying to get a glimpse inside through its exposed beams. I’m not sure why I’m attached to it or why I keep going back.
I hope it’s always there.
FOR THE BIRDS
Stella Jane calls the blackbirds “Mardi Gras Birds” because they shine “an iridescent golden blue, green, and purple in the sun.”
“How do they sound, babe?” She asks Ken.
“Like glass dropping,” he replies.
“It’s like rusted hinges,” she tells me, mimicking the sound. “To him, every blackbird is a crow,” she says. “But there are so many different blackbirds. Red-winged Blackbirds, Starlings, with their speckled bodies and yellow eyes, Grackles.”
It’s obvious how their son became a poet.
“Kenneth had a show at an old house near Evangeline. I was standing up and I felt two small taps, like a small child’s fingertips pressing against my back. I asked Kenneth if he had touched me, and he said he hadn’t. Kenneth spoke to the owner of the house, and he said his family had moved and that they now lived in Houston, but he still stayed in the house when he was in town. He said at night that there were always sounds upstairs. When they lived there, his daughter’s room was also upstairs. He told her if she ever needed anything, to call him, and he’d come get her. He didn’t want her falling down the dark stairs at night. One night, he woke up, and she was in the bed with he and his wife. He asked her why she didn’t call him, that he didn’t want her coming down the stairs on her own. She said, ‘But Daddy, you carried me.”
This first night I couldn’t sleep. I tried to force Annie to cuddle with me. She wasn’t interested.
I’ve always believed that my purpose in life has been to craft meaningful relationships, to try and be a benefit to someone else’s life, to create something beautiful out of my connection with other human beings. I know that even for my closest friends this can be unsettling. I get too wrapped up in the problems of others, have too many relationships that I can’t live without, become a beacon of anxiety. Empathy can be a curse, and sometimes I feel like I’m plowing through emotional war zones in my tank, armed with what I think is goodness, but in the end, the tank is made of cardboard and my bullets are just tears, and the only power I have is to carry weight, not lift it. Sometimes though. I think I’m getting it right. I just keep hoping all this cardboard is stronger than I think it is, and that all of these interesting and strange relationships I’ve made are perfect. And even if cardboard isn’t strong, with enough imagination and a bit of mystery, I can make my cardboard tank a boat, a house, a time machine, maybe even a spaceship. See. There is enough room for everyone.
*I would have loved to have ended this post with the poem that Kevin Meaux once wrote about his parents called “The Young Magician and His Wife.” I wish I had it at my fingertips, but my poetry books are all packed up from my last move, and I can’t remember it word for word. Samantha Meaux (always understanding and lovely wife of Kevin Meaux, if you read this, post it for us! Secretly. I know he probably still hates all forms of social media.)