The Dueling Oaks of New Orleans
A prose poem story and observation commentary
Terese: Poem One of Beneath the Dueling Oaks
Etienne Charbonnet, heir of "Du Amiee",
Attended the great "Mistress" Ball,
Where he met Terese, femme delight.
Wearing her "virginal" gown of lace white,
While her "maman" hovered solictiously near.
She unfurled her painted fan and made her debut.
There were so many aristocrats of Creole descent,
Scattered with a few uncouth American gents,
To squire her about the floor at the ball.
Yet when, Etienne walked in, she saw no other.
"Maman" she whispered behind the fan to her mother,
"Tis not he exquisite, non?"
"Indeed, oui, my precious 'enfant, he is"
Madame DuPree' said but then in a lower tone,
"Terese, take care, he is a Charbonnet."
"Du Amiee" was the finest house in all the Vieux Carre.
Etienne was the prize catch of marriage
And a "liasonance" for Terese DuPree'.
Let some simpering New Orleans' "belle de hautiere'",
Wed the handsome Etienne and bear his heir,
While she, the lovely Terese, would his evenings share,
Lust, wine and many of years of his "love"
As his mistress, extraordinare.
Conflict: Poem Two of Beneath the Dueling Oaks
Etienne stepped forward, his air debonair,
He made a low, sweeping bow
And extended his hand to Terese, oh so fair.
Blushing sweetly, she demurely accepted
And together they stepped out into the music and light.
She so neatly fit beneath his chin.
And tiny in his arms within.
They whirled and twirled to the waltz
And his glorious smile upon her was not lost.
Her skin, like golden cafe au lait,
Her beautiful brown eyes above fine cheekbones lay.
Hair like ebony fire, piled with trailing curls,
Lips, like ruby red strawberries, with sweet curves
As she smiled upon Etienne adoringly transfixed,
Such emotions in her stomach were mixed.
They were the finest couple on the floor
And Madame Dupree' beamed and beamed some more.
As their third dance began,
A tall Irish-American beside them came to stand.
Sean O'Shillery had the "bonne" Terese spied
And his lust for her would not be denied.
He tapped Etienne upon the shoulder light,
A signal strong and clear to move aside.
Dark anger flushed the Creole's face,
As he said in a voice without a single angry trace,
"Monsieur, pardon moi, but if you wish a dance,
Then on her card being open, you must take a chance."
With these words, Etienne swirled away with Terese,
His anger now longer seemed to exist.
Sean, in a blustering Irish way,
Mumbled "Snooty Creole, this will not be the end of this foray!"
Written September 12,
They stand in a corner of City Park, the pair of them, surrounded by nothing but grass, the meandering Park lane, and with the twisting bayou at their back. Their trunks are wide, at least four feet across in width and in circumference, twelve feet. They stand as a pair of lovers, their long ancient branches drapping to ground level and then rising up again. They are intertwined with each other in many places. Their age; between two hundred and fifty and two hundred years, perhaps even more. Their past is as old and strange as the city in which is their home. They are the Dueling Oaks.
In New Orleans' colorful past of French Creoles, unwanted Americans, and Freemen, there are enough off the wall stories to fill the pages of many books. These two old oak trees are but a small part of that history.
Canal Street is now a wide, four lane avenue that runs directly down the middle of downtown New Orleans. It is named for a canal that never existed. There was talk of building it many times in the late 18th and early 19th centuries but it never happened for many reasons, not the least of which was money. The street runs from the Mississippi River at one end and the City of the Dead at the other, which is New Orleans' famous cemetaries in tombs built above the ground as the wet, marsh ground that is the base of this city's foundation was too mucky to bury the dead in. The street is also called the "neutral ground" and most New Orleanians, myself included, still call it that. Why? A lot of us don't know but we grew up calling it that. The real reason was the street divided the French Quarter with its aristocratic French-descent Creoles from the other side which was populated by the less than desired Americans and also the Irish Channel based off of Magazine Street.
The wealthier Americans built homes of palace status on St. Charles street but the Creoles still snubbed them and were highly miffed if the Americans attempted to interlope in any of their social activities. Many a heated argument would thus ensue and it would become a matter of honor. A slap, a challenge, and a date was set to meet at the Dueling Oaks.
Another old street is New Orleans is Esplanade. It lies on the back side of the Quarter and runs from Elysian Fields Avenue for two or three miles until it ends at Beauregard's Circle and then into City Park which was at one time a prosperous and huge plantation. Now, not all of the duels fought at these oak trees were between American men and Creole gentleman but sometimes among two from the same classification and most of the duels were fought over..what else...the affections of a woman.
I can't quote correct statistics at the moment of how many young lives have been lost to impetuous defense of slighted honor with the quick shot of dueling pistols or the ringing clash of silvery thin rapiers but it was.
Now, these two old oaks no longer see bloodshed upon the gnarled roots and they stand honorably in the memory of the ones who foolishly lost their lives there. Their sad history is commenorated with a brass plague so old now that it turning green in its stone base. Yet, they still stand as two of the oldest and most magnificent examples of their type, even in a park filled with countless beautiful, moss draped oaks. Everytime I drive through City Park, I have to stop for a moment and feast my eyes on their majestic sight. It is a solid affirmation that Nature will outlast and very well stand the test of time far beyond Man's ridiculous whims.
In age is wisdom.
In silence is peace.
Only one of the trees remain but it is easy to imagine seeing them both as there are magnificent oaks all through City Park.