frog's blog

Anuran, n. an amphibian of the order Salientia (formerly Anura or Batrachia), which includes the frogs and toads

Friday, September 02, 2005

For New Orleans?

I began this two days ago. As the "news" rolls in, there will be more to say, feelings will fluctuate, thoughts will change. And I must tell myself "it's not about me or 'us' or what I paid at the gas pump yesterday."

Already, two comrades from New Orleans have found refuge on our land. Listening to their stories, the breadth of this, the layers of this, the incalculable meaning of this, settles into my unsettled heart.

I wanted to write something profound for New Orleans. But most words, most forms of expression—short of screams and howls or a long solemn silence—seem inadequate. What mode offers a proper ode? Wouldn’t a prayer or poem be redundant at this point? (Shiloh and I, we are working on a song). What’s there to say when there’s nothing to say? And whatever we say: it will sound like a cliché.

Perhaps I should just compose a list of all the music I’m listening to manage my fear and grief, because New Orleans is so much about sounds, as much as it is about images. But the list isn’t surprising: the Nevilles, Dr. John, Professor Longhair. Except for one: an obscure young cat from suburban Detroit, who ended up for a while in “Nahlins”: Dan Kahn does folk blues with a bite, and “Terrebone Parish,” the opening track on his self-produced CD River Mouth, is all about murder and hurricanes. It’s an eerie and musty soundtrack, a song as haunting and humid as the weather. (Check back next week, as I am trying to post an MP3 of this amazing song).

Kahn sings lines about the past that should have been written today: “everybody’s waiting around for the water to rise to the edge of the sky and the rain to come tumblin, tumblin on down”; “it was deep in the hurricane month . . .”; “those rumors they spread like malaria”; “but you can’t tell a Cajun, just to move off to Houston”; “you can take all the dreams . . . and you can wash them away just like Hurricane Andrew washed trailers away from their lots.”

Perhaps I can list each person I know from this city and check off the names of those I can confirm are safe. Most of my people had the means to get out. Mostly they are white, and in perspective, they have privilege compared to those now trapped in the Superdome, in attics, and on rooftops. (Or shipped like livestock to Texas, or lost in the streets, fighting for their lives, or worse). On Tuesday, I carried Mardi Gras beads with me wherever I went, fondling them in my pocket as a ritual and reminder.

While memories of some cities fade, mine of New Orleans remain vivid. It’s this tangible template of lingering thoughts, scrolling across the canvas of my mind like fragments of celluloid, like the bad dreams of youth. This recurring return, it comforts as it haunts you. You might be just as scared that it may never come back. How much of this city will never come back?

Sunday night and Monday morning, as the opportunistic media horror story began to mount, I thought, this is really over-the-top. Yet worse: the tones of apology and relief at first, on Monday: “not the doomsday scenario some expected.” That’s something easier for pundits with their lives in tact to say. Tell that to the homeless! Define doomsday, define biblical proportion, define economic crisis, define natural disaster, define catastrophe, define heroism. Define these things, and we’ve defined humanity. What is "history" but a winding narrative of death and drama and human folly?

But now, as we realize the real impact of it all, I doubt it possible to exaggerate. Witnesses describe communities on the coast as “not severely damaged” but “simply, not there.”

And as a writer, I have overcome some cynicism of my early media critique, gaining some respect for the poets of the satellite dish, for the prophets of the cable news network, even with their manufactured tears and emotions on auction to secure elevated ratings. When the obscenity of reality TV tweaks it up another notch each day, there’s nothing like a genuine disaster to redefine destruction and keep the spectacle in perspective.


At 6:31 AM, Blogger Eli said...

how about connecting some of your people to me, a former Detroiter gone New Orleanian for the past 12 years

thanks everyone for all of the love & support. it may seem words are redundant but they're not. that said, we're all desperately broke, looking for lodging, money, jobs. Keep that in mind & do what you can. Helping a New Orleanian is helping a representative of heaven.

Many thanks,
Elizabeth Underwood


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