A Poetic Retrospective on Hurricane Katrina

Just six months after Hurricane Katrina hit, I went to New Orleans with two women. We tore down drywall in the 9th ward, dragged soggy mattresses into the street and watched as people stood in the middle of their devastated houses and wept. Months later, we created a multi-media project honoring the people we met and the places that we’d been.

This poem comes from that project. For all the people who are holding the spirit of New Orleans alive.



This morning, walking in the soft light

of New Orleans East, I fell in love

with a bright red swing hanging silent

from a tree. The house was deserted,

but the swing reminded me of the child

and of the family that might return


And then, in the house across the street,

while sorting through the heap of moldy couches

and porcelain figurines, newspapers and self-help tapes,

I fell in love with the house’s owner. I fell in love

with the way she clutched her face as she sobbed,

the way she called me angel for helping her.

I fell for her surrender, for her inability to look

or touch her favorite chair, lying on its back

like a harlot thrown out into the street.

This is the kind of love that’s born of great loss,

of wreckage, of misunderstanding. It’s the love

born out of emptiness because there is nothing

familiar to hold it up.

And later, as I walked near the Fairgrounds,

the light settling like a heavy mist over the city,

I noticed the statue of the Virgin Mary nestled

into a tree just above the high-water mark.

I noticed Terranova’s grocery, open despite everything,

and the hot Po-Boys down the street, and the Laundromat–

God, the Laundromat–and the soap.

My heart is nudged open like the stick

that holds ajar the window across the street.

Anything could fly in, and it does.

And when the night dims and the sun flushes

orange across the sky, the sound of a trumpet

begins the slow feet of a Jazz funeral. I stare

into the window of Terranova’s grocery, at the boxes

of food and the clerk’s tired eyes. I hear her say

“We’re open,” and I fall in love again.