The Wishing Tomb

Amanda Auchter

The Wishing Tomb is a love letter to a city that has been defined by its travails and triumphs. New Orleans, that quintessential city of jazz and yellow fevers, of hurricanes and Creole cuisine, is integral to America’s cultural, urban, and historical landscape. This collection is a narrative of place, but more than that, these poems create a portrait of us all: how connected we are to the land we love and to our homes, how history sometimes escapes us, and how even in our tragedies, we can be made whole again by rebuilding and moving forward.

Decorating the Tombs: All Saints’ Day

After the wood engraving by John Durkin, November 1885

We bring our bread and fall flowers,

a table spread with rust linen,
forks and plates. We bring paper crowns,

a sheaf of wheat, press each against white-
washed tombs, offer our prayers, our baskets
of harvest: yellow chrysanthemums,

red coxcombs, wreaths of black glass
beads. Keepsakes in the glow

of our children’s hands, fields
of candlelight, lamp oil, the distant

burst of lightning. Each stone
a vessel we bring our mouths to, touch
and whisper, wipe clear of lichen, soot.

Around us, the city blurs in dusk: low blue

between the coliseum of houses, men
with their carts of ice, tomatoes. We lift

our spoons of pudding and don’t speak
of the rising river, fevers, how soon the damp
earth will shutter our eyes, dredge the backs

of our throats. How soon, too, the night
will come, the rats for our crumbs,

the water, the ruin, for our tender bones.

Cover image: The Wishing Tomb
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PEN Center USA Award in Poetry, winner

“In these textured, deftly-crafted stanzas, Amanda Auchter romances the grit, the rampant spice, the twang, the mystery, the brick, the swelter, and the insistent hallelujah conjured by the Crescent City. This sparkling, defiant love story pays tribute to NOLA on the upswing, while remembering how often it has teetered on the edge of descent.” —Patricia Smith
“Auchter reminds us… that paradise isn’t a hidden place we will eventually discover. It’s a shelter we have to build against the violence of the world.” —Zone 3 [read the full review]
The Wishing Tomb is a lyric history of New Orleans’ beauty and brutality, both human and environmental. Amanda Auchter is a poet of rare elegance and dexterity who writes just as movingly about gunshot as she does the markings of brick-scratch left on the tomb of Marie Laveau. Every city deserves the subtle attention of such a poet, a poet brave and nimble enough to touch every line of the city’s rough, loved, and disastrous skin.” —Katie Ford
The Wishing Tomb continually employs disjunctions in its lyrical imagery, layering opulent descriptions of flowers, food, and music with scenes of struggle and brutality. In this way, Auchter authenticates New Orleans: there are no euphemisms or simplistic portrayals of Mardi Gras or hurricane outreach here. Rather, she presents the city as multifaceted, its traditions both comforting and catastrophic. Disaster is spliced with natural beauty.” Beloit Poetry Journal

Author photograph by Eddy Roberts

Amanda Auchter

Amanda Auchter is the founding editor of Pebble Lake Review and the author of The Glass Crib, winner of the 2010 Zone 3 Press First Book Award, and of the chapbook, Light Under Skin. The Wishing Tomb is her second full-length collection. She has been the recipient of numerous awards and honors including the Theodore Morrison Poetry Scholarship from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Marica and Jan Vilcek Prize for Poetry, the Mary C. Mohr Poetry Award, and the James Wright Poetry Award. She holds an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars and has taught creative writing and literature at Lone Star College in Houston, Texas. Visit her on Twitter @ALAuchter, on Instagram @alauchter, and on her website.

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