Three weeks in a row, after we
have made the obligatory trips
to Café du Monde and the French Quarter,
I drive visitors to the Lower Ninth Ward
to see the empty lots and abandoned homes.
First, we go to the base of the levee
and climb to the top. The Mississippi
is flat and calm, the shore crowded
with the skeleton trunks of trees,
tangled and sun-bleached, wolf grey.
Then we drive slowly through
the deserted neighborhoods,
slow enough to avoid gaping potholes,
to peer into gutted houses
rotting in the clutches of weeds.
“Did it flood here? How high?”
We seek out the damage,
want to know the numbers dead,
a morbid arithmetic weighed against
our paltry experiences with loss.
I’ve only lived in New Orleans
for three months. More than six years
have passed since Katrina
crashed to land and showed us
what failure and breach can mean.
The careful remembering of smells,
of fleeing, of a snake’s white skeleton
dangling from the branch of a tree,
uprooted, has been a task for others.
I recall only the dull glare of a tv screen.
As a child I fell often and my parents,
gathering me up, would say,
“Show me where it hurts”:
by pointing here, I gave my pain
a witness and therefore an escape.
So I take my friends over
the bridge, looking for destruction.
We go for the same reason we are drawn
to cemeteries and to looking at scars.
We want to point to where it hurt.
But the injury is not our own;
it belongs to you and your songs.
And though we don’t say it
we know we’re just voyeurs
on your landscape of pain and rebirth.
What do you think of our prying eyes,
you who rebuilt your ruined, reeking
houses brick by brick? Still, we seek
traces of all that came undone,
hoping that by looking we might see.
But the potholes are not deep enough.
The tearing of the walls, the cankered rot,
the bridge across the river and the road home
are not enough to be enough