Friday, August 29, 2014

Window of Isolation: Louisiana's Leprosarium

Carville: Amid Moss and Resurrection Fern
Poems by Gina Ferrara

Poet Gina Ferrara's new chapbook, Carville Amid Moss and Resurrection Fern
(Finishing Line Press 2014) delivers a new way of looking at leprosy, now known as Hansen's disease. The beauty of these poems is arresting and surprising, given the once taboo subject of leprosy. The leprosarium at Carville operated for over a hundred years.

As a child in catholic school in New Orleans, Ferrara grew up hearing about lepers. Four years ago, when she visited the colony in Carville, Louisiana, she learned more about the lives of the patients. Carville is located off River Road, near Baton Rouge. However, it is essentially in the middle of nowhere. Ferrara captures that sense of isolation in her Carville Poems. The title references the fact that moss and resurrection fern can be found in the oak trees at Carville. Ferrara was taken by the physical beauty of the landscape at Carville and how the beauty of the land was intertwined and connected to the personal experiences of the patients. From "A Perfect Terrain": 'Drenched in moss and resurrection fern, the oaks stayed stoic--/a perfect terrain for the ostriches, swift-footed and flightless/that would never arrive.'

In writing these poems, Ferrara never lost sight of the loneliness experienced by Carville residents. "I wanted to convey how people who had the disease became isolated--very removed from the lives they had lived and previously known, " she said. "They no longer saw their families or loved ones. They had to establish a new and different way of living."

Residents at Carville may have been isolated, but they lived life to the fullest, put on dances and Mardi Gras balls, and published a newspaper with a circulation of over 250, 000. The poem, "Tea Hour on Point Clair Road," shows how the ladies would take their tea, 'The fingerless/Even the unmarred waited for the sips and stains of tea hours,/ Something miraculous as a cure/under a sun no longer at apex.'

Gina first began writing the poems in the spring of 2010 and finished the book over a period of two years. She approached Finishing Line Press because they had published her first poetry chapbook, The Size of Sparrows, in 2006. She met one of  the patients, Pete from Trinidad, who was about ten years old when he arrived and is now in his eighties. He is one of the last patients to live there, rides around on his bicycle, and is eager to talk to visitors. The lyrical poems, along with photographs by Elizabeth Garcia, offer a window into life at Carville, Louisiana.
Gina Ferrara

Carville in the Spring
Gina Ferrara

Sugar surrounds this sanctuary
far from ordinary or Galapagos.
The road ends each time
I check my appendages
for open wounds, red splotches in tandem.
I remember the last pliant hand I held.
Would the constellated sky feel like a hand?
Each finger with its own unblemished identity—
supple and tapering to a square tip,
the bony range of knuckles
buckling only to brush inside my palm.
I squint and scan for semblances of past lives.
Who is the gypsy? Who is the physicist?
I have my suspicions.
Today a woman arrived.
She strolls through the covered corridors
with memories of her identity and scepter,
helpless and unable to reign over the bacilli
waiting to uprise in time as unwanted suns.

Gina Ferrara's work has previously been featured on La Bloga. Her latest full-length poetry book, Amber Porch Light was also recently reviewed by Frank Mundo in the Examiner.

1 comment:

Mary Helen Lagasse said...

917Gina's poetry is lovely and heartfelt.