About the Author
Donna Langevin lives in Toronto but thinks of New Orleans, where
southern branch of her family lived until they were displaced by
Hurricane Katrina, as her second home. Her poems have been published in
many Canadian and American Journals. She is the author of Improvising
in the Dark, which came out with watershedBooks in 1999, and The Second
Language of Birds, published by Hidden Brook Press in 2005.
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In the Café du Monde
When I drop into the Café du Monde in New Orleans, I feel like
it has no walls. Maybe this is because I often sit at one of the
curbside tables under the green and white striped canopy to watch
street performers. Whether taking shelter indoors from a sudden
lightning storm or the sweltering heat, I always have the same feeling
– this is a place with a heart big enough to contain the whole world.
And in particular, it is large enough to encompass the diversity of my
experiences in the north and the south. My roots are in Montreal,
Quebec where I was born and grew up. Much of my life has been in
Toronto, Ontario where I live, work as a teacher, and had my three
sons. I have also spent considerable time in New Orleans visiting my
Canadian-born mother and my sister, who lived in the “Crescent City”
for over thirty years, until being displaced to Houston by Hurricane
In the Café du Monde is clearly a title that also embraces my
long ago stint as a clown in a traveling school production which
sparked my interest in the street performers of Jackson Square. It can
also include my passion for art and music, my fascination with plants
and animals, and a gamut of other topics. And as I watch the tide of
people ebb and flow through the café, I also suffer the sense of
mortality which haunts the collection, and renew my commitment to live
sensuously, and whenever possible, joyously, for the rest of my days.
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About Donna Langevin’s second book
The Second Language of Birds
There is a sureness here, a confidence, that seduces the reader.
The language flows as naturally as the rivers her mother lived beside
... The main things that make these poems so moving are the highly
developed sense of empathy and ability to invoke the ineffable with the
use of piercing sensual detail.
PAT Jasper, author of The Outlines of Our Warm Bodies and
Donna Langevin’s second poetry collection is as lyrical, poignant and
playful as her first ... Quintessentially Canadian nature imagery is
threaded through the book.
Kate Rogers, The Ambassador, 2005
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A Few Sample Poems
In the Café du Monde
under the canopy seven days a week
you can order beignets
like puffy golden clouds
fried in a vat bigger than a bathtub.
Misted with icing sugar, they’ll lift
your mood sky-high
as you sip café au lait
flavoured with roasted chicory
the colour of the Mississippi
from a “navy” mug.
Your eyes big as dinner plates,
you can watch a dozen shows
from your dirty street-side table –
boys tap-dancing with bottle caps nailed to their shoes,
a clown twisting balloons into a sausage dog,
Dante the magician in his stingy-brim Stetson
snatching a twenty-dollar bill out of an orange
while you sway in synch with a band
brassing up “the Saints” as the spirit
of Louis Armstrong parades in the air.
In the Café du Monde barely cooled
by fans whining like mosquitoes
you can share a table with
tourists lawyers gangsters
housewives gamblers merchants
ghosts of coffee bean farmers
exhausted from the French Market,
dropping in for a cup since 1862.
In the Café du Monde like the hub
of a captain’s wheel
you can hear the voices of ships
on their way to Baton Rouge and Natchez,
Memphis and St. Louis.
You can meet a friend and wish
you could talk forever.
You can drink alone, yet pulse
with the heart of the world
as people come and go,
and past and present flow
from a brimming mug
into your own river-veins.
Last night my mother phoned long distance
with a story she’d like in a poem –
This morning at 5 a.m., she heard
a gentle moaning. Could it be
the ghost of my father trying to send a message?
It seemed to come from the balcony
so she went outside in her nightie
and coo ah coo coo coo,
there in her glass lantern with
one panel smashed by Katrina,
a dove was warming her nest.
She didn’t fly off when my mother appeared.
They both sat there for hours, the dove
softly complaining as my mother mourned
the home she must leave to live
in a safer city in a seniors’ apartment
with maid service and meals with hundreds
of other old people with walkers, wheelchairs and canes
and a view of manicured gardens
with a well-stocked goldfish pool instead
of the Mississippi all brown and wild
and treacherous, 59 ships sunk
in the bend in front of her condo since 1857.
As she listens to the dove,
my mother is saying goodbye to the parade
of barges, tankers, paddlewheel steamers, ocean liners
and tugboats she’s watched from this porch.
She’s bidding farewell to the horses and riders
and people with dogs frisking along the levee.
Saying goodbye to lightning storms
that crack open the sky,
the thunder she hears without hearing aids,
Audubon Park, Mardi Gras and all the friends she loves.
As the dove keeps on crying, my mother tells herself
perhaps the hurricane wrecked her nest last year,
so she rebuilt here, inside this lantern
which can’t be very comfortable because
her tail sticks out the front, or sometimes her head.
The dove isn’t happy, but she’s trying
to do her best so perhaps this is a sign
from God, the way it was with Noah,
which my mother interprets to mean
the dove will complain for both of them
so she can be silent, never a murmur
of discontent to my sister, my brothers or me.
We’ll all say that at ninety,
Rita is a trouper,
she hits the pavement running,
and all the old clichés. But I
will write this call is a sign
my mother is trying to tell me
if it weren’t for this mourning dove,
she’d never have found the strength, and though
she won’t be in New Orleans when
the eggs finally hatch, her story
will fly like a gift to us,
no matter how dark the sky.
If “Live Oaks” Could Laugh
I would hear them all over New Orleans –
deep earthy rumblings
rising from their roots
which reach back long before Bienville
scouted the swamp for a site.
I would float on waves
spilling from ho-ho mouths
hidden behind their hoary beards
And surely I would weep with them
when laughter turned to grief
as they mourned for their limbs
torn out by Katrina.
But when I heard a rude slurp slurp
sloshing through my sleep,
it would be that liquid joy
welling up their trunks
as they guzzled flood-water
to replenish blood they lost.
Six months later at Mardi Gras
when the buds returned with élan
and shook out tiny parachutes
with green and golden strings,
the “Chocolate Oaks”
– nicknamed after the flood –
would ladle a laugh as creamy and rich
as the mud on their bark.
Irrepressible as the people
who climb them to watch the parades,
they’d bow to fellow kings of merriment –
Bacchus, Zulu and Rex
as beads tossed from watermarked floats
land in leafy canopies,
dazzle their new green crowns.
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In the Café du Monde is Donna Langevin’s best book so far. The
poems are incisive, touching, funny, philosophical, and have depths
that come out on repeated reading. She has a knack for seeing things
that the average observer would miss. She sees both the beauty and the
fragility of human beings simultaneously; she can celebrate the
transcendent and heroic in them while mourning their ephemeral nature.
This book is solid proof that the everyday is very much the stuff of
poetry, in the right hands.
Review by - Andréa Jarmai, author of Brother to Dragons,
Companion to Owls
- Seraphim Press
Donna Langevin’s “In the Cafe du Monde
covers a variety of subjects: animals, fish, flowers, trees, bells,
lovers, children, parents, cancer and the final dramatic flooding of
She has a gift for the dramatic ending ( the last lines of “Needles”
and “Time Out”); for simple words that did not send me seeking a
dictionary; and for her play with words and sentences that increase in
dramatic quality in how and where they are repeated (“Sarah”). Her
treatment of sexuality and sensuality is bold but not vulgar (“There”
and “Pronouns”). I learned new metaphoric uses for common words like
the Mississippi river (“In the Cafe du Monde”), Mardi Gras Beads (poem
with the same title) and Life Preservers (“After-Math”).
One could argue that the poems dedicated to her friend stricken by
cancer would be the most poignant, but this theme has been hackneyed in
recent times and I preferred to pass them by, touching though they
were. The themes that struck me most I found in the poems depicting New
Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and the resulting state
of exile visited upon the poet’s mother (Hurricane Marguerita) moving
to Texas to live the parallel in-between life as Donna, herself caught
between New Orleans and Toronto and beautifully rendered in “Night
The journey through this collection evoked many emotions as it touched
various aspects of the human experience.
Review by Shane Joseph - Author of Redemption In Paradise
and Fringe Dwellers