Wednesday, August 31, 2005


It's not so much the relentless photographs
of floods, the debris of our lives smashed
and scattered, or even the obsession I have
developed to read something -
anything, about Lessepps Street
where Lee Grue lives.

Kalamu ya Salam made it to Houston, is mostly
off line, Ahmos ZuBolton died last year,
so it's not personal ties or the memories I have
of the Big Easy, or the story this morning about
the Crescent Hotel in the Quarter that brought
up generators one last time to cook a hot
breakfast for everyone, anyone, a piano player
performing Stormy Weather.

It's not sweet memories -- eating
Eggs Benedict at Brennans when I was ten.
My parents took us on a long car trip from Illinois
to California then down through Texas, across to New Orleans
and then back home through the Smoky Mountains,
America the Beautiful, and now devastation,
or walking into a perfume shop
and buying a bottle of White Shoulders
which lasted well into my teens because Mother
insisted it was just for special events,
like church, weddings, graduations, funerals.

It's not the poetry conference in New Orleans
where I met Lee Grue, or the honor
of knowing Tom Dent even slightly,
or the sweet way Ahmos ZuBolton
called me "Little Sister," or the Maple Street Bar
where I read poems with the New Orleans poets,
or the way Ken Fontenot gave us an insider tour
of town that produced incredible and cheap fresh oysters,
or following Lee Grue around the French Quarter
stopping in to hear her neighbors play, the Marcellus
crowd, in a grill across from a confection shop
where we got the best pralines in the world.

I read in the Picayune online edition blog that water
was waist deep on Lessepps Street this morning.
Lee's shot gun house is elevated four or five feet
above street level, so it may be all right, for now.
The long hallway front to back is painted with a mural
of the Mississippi River. Her ex-husband is a Riverboat
Pilot. Her stories and poems are passionately in love
with New Orleans, The French Quarter. Lessepps Street
dead ends into a levee. We walked to Bourbon Street.

It's not the crawfish in huge kettles in any café, po boys,
and delicious Louisiana Red Sauce, Red Beans and Rice.
It's not the food, or even the music that won't ever die
that has me frantic today, wakes me up in the middle
of the night inside a house filling up with water -
to the rafters in the attic. Would we have an axe?
Could we find it?

It's not even the inferno of the Super Dome,
full of sweltering people, thirty thousand, more -
toilets overflowing the way they do in a disgusting
nightmare, but you have to add the stench to that,
and darkness, and tropical heat, and mosquitoes,
exhausted panic setting in, and reality -
real lives to re-build, how?
And will they even survive?
And if they don't, who will go down for criminal

And it's not reservists in Iraq who could be flying
helicopters also in Iraq on rescue missions in New Orleans
or the waste of that, or the atrocity even.
It's more than my own sweet memories,
or the empathetic way I have of living in the world
that has my stomach tied in knots
and a deep fury shaking me like a rag doll.
It's not even the absurd insult
of Martial Law from leaders who should say,
"Take what you need, share what you have."

It's not airlines who stopped flying out of
New Orleans eight hours before they needed
to, who could have staged an heroic evacuation,
and chose not to fly empty planes in to a city
everyone was trying to leave.

Here's the thing.

What if Katrina isn't a 500 year freak?
What if the hurricane scientists are right?
They are saying the temperature of the water,
up two degrees, feeds the rash of
monster hurricanes we've seen this year and last.

What if this is just the first great coastal city
to be buried under water, only the first of many
draughts of petrochemical poison to be jettisoned
into the waters of the earth?

What if this is our last chance to mediate
the horrific effects global warming will have on
everything we know, love and understand?
What if it's too late?

©Susan Bright, 2005

Susan Bright is the author of nineteen books of poetry. She is the editor of Plain View Press which since 1975 has published one-hundred-and-fifty books. Her work as a poet, publisher, activist and educator has taken her all over the United States and abroad. Her most recent book, The Layers of Our Seeing, is a collection of poetry, photographs and essays about peace done in collaboration with photographer Alan Pogue and Middle Eastern journalist, Muna Hamzeh.


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Blogger Charlie Loving said...

Very nice.

I spent a great deal of time in the Big Easy with my uncle who was a silk screen artist and did marvelous etchings. I have family there and I have seen their neighborhood or not seen it. They lived a few blocks from the lake. My uncle lived in the quarter. There is not much you can say when a nightmare turns to reality and the world turns upside down. You look at it and say, "Glad I'm here and not there and where is my cousin and aunt who is pushing 90?"

Yes, it could happen here too. One more storm in the Gulf. I survived the the flood on the Nueches a few years ago when it rained 15 inches on the head waters and like dopes we were camped next to the river. That storm wasted San Antonio. Not like Katrina but it was bad enough. A real serious storm could really mess up the likes of Corpus or Houston.

It may be as Del Speigel says, "Global come upance for the dasterdly Americans." or it may be the noraml cycle of things as the meterologists at ACCU Weather say. That is another one of those arguements that won't be answered until the mean temperature of the earth hits 99 degrees.

And GW was on top of the situation playing golf while the Gulf coast died.

And hey, hey, he is knocking three days off the vacation to go back to the White House. Good idea GW.

I can recall Truman flying over disasters and Eisenhower speaking from disasters on Movietone News Reals down at the Ritz. They related or tried to relate with the people.

Gw only wants to rally the public to his failed Iraq adventure.

God Bless, no Help the USA.

6:31 AM  
Blogger Charlie Loving said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

6:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a beautiful, haunting piece. It speaks to what is in my heart - the fear, saddness, injustice and anger - of our world that is changing at such a rapid pace that it makes my mind spin.

I liked these images of New Orleans.

7:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

beautiful post for a lost city.

11:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

super site. keep up the good work

11:54 AM  
Blogger Urban Denizen #512 said...

The Republic has her first ruins. But we have no time for museums as they lay waste to our tomorrows.

As I mature, maybe get a bit older on the outside and younger on the inside, I become far more tactile.

Let's do, not say.

Deliberation is the first sign of decadence. We've all been deliberating over the years, circling around the Ancient Gallery of Tradition and Innovation, and we're all about as decadent as they come.

We should put out resources together and give birth to the Austin Alternative Fuel Co-op, fueling station on the East side. Sell memberships. Facilitate conversions. Find an underwriter. Offer warranties. Procure mechanics. Market based on need, not glip political misgivings.

Rhetoric is dead.

Build this new Green House. Then and only then will we have a monument to foil the White One and write some beautiful verse in stone.

It has never been a story of us versus them. After the events of the past days, is it not evident that we're all in this together?

Solutions now.
Paradigm shifts in the process.
Cultural Innovations in the end.
New World.

We can fly if we try. Let's try.

12:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

my god, this is just beginning to sink in. the city is lost.

12:00 PM  
Blogger oZ said...

well said, SG, but don't forget about the plug in hybrid campaign.
fueling our transportation appliances with electric fuel from windpower is a good strategy. plug ins can also run on biofuel

12:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am finally crying for New Orleans...and all of the suffering victims...and all of us...

12:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

All our castles crumbling, all the hard work to make a home, to aquire and have things. All for nothing. Not one breath should be taken for granted. Live well has new in love. Love my friends, love all you can!

7:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

this is a huge national tragedy, well beyond what we know right now.

1:34 PM  
Blogger chella said...

i am moved by your poem "nola," feeling such despair and looking for hope. having lived in montgomery, al, and travelling to new orleans at least 3 or 4 times a year for more than 10 years, i love that city and its people, the way i love san francisco. my monies and prayers to the abandoned and deserted peoples of this nation.

10:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sadly I don't think anything the public or the Government agencies do is going to help the situation in New Orleans... I'm afraid the whole town is a loss... 80 days to drain the city... It might be okay if that was the only problem but the whole logistics of the matter half the police in the area have failed to show up. This will be the first time in many moons that a city will be under martial Law (just watch) and then watch it spread like wild fire. Then again I could be wrong... actually I really hope that I am but that's what I see.

3:15 AM  

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