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for Tony’s cousin,who“ made it” out safely


Frustration as old as New Orleans,

where race was the unspoken issue, keeps

those who could not leave, after Katrina.

Shame grows

among the masses,

huddled in the mud and the urine,

the stench of death in torrid attics,

impatience and hunger, amid

the beatings and the suicides, (to say nothing of

the drownings, explosions, and fires).  Too much water:

Humiliation floats in a woman’s hurried pee—

on the sidewalk, where she’s hidden only by a dying plant,

and a gentleman, whom she thinks to thank,

diverts his tired eyes, in the begging for

a bottle of water for one’s dying father, who is ninety,

only to be denied, lacking his physical presence,

and in the floods that glisten in the sun while being

transformed into sewer-water.

The poor left their everything at the levee,

that is, if they could leave, they left everything—

in the place where their ancestors were beaten,

after being “sold south,” then freed but given

nothing but Jim Crow. And now there’s nothing

but heat and shit here by the river’s mouth.

Somehow the hell goes on and on.  (Hell

being three babies, dying in the Astrodome.)


Did folks not deserve better than

the armed police, who waved guns and

herded them like slaves or black pigs?  A bus

overturned on its tardy way to the Promised Land:

Redemption being, once again, denied.  But somehow—

the folks who make it will somehow “make a life”:

find purgatory  where there used to be hell.

But in the Big Easy (after many prayers),

they knew that life was good,



first published in Washing the Color of Water Golden: A Hurricane Katrina Anthology

If you pray but aren’t praying for Anna, I wish you would.

God says, “I am offering you life or death, blessing or curse. Choose life, then, so that you and your descendants may live” (Deuteronomy 30:19).

“Choose life.” That’s God’s call for us, and there is not a moment in which we do not have to make that choice. Life and death are always before us. In our imaginations, our thoughts, our words, our gestures, our actions … even in our nonactions. This choice for life starts in a deep interior place. Underneath very life-affirming behaviour I can still harbour death-thoughts and death-feelings. The most important question is not “Do I kill?” but “Do I carry a blessing in my heart or a curse?” The bullet that kills is only the final instrument of the hatred that began being nurtured in the heart long before the gun was picked up.

August 2006