In Memory of Hurricane Katrina, Part II

The Queen of Voodoo

By Amy L. Montz

 

When I was a girl,

My hair full of curls,

My mother would threaten me with voodoo.

She would say, do this, or that, do as I say

Or Marie Laveau will take you away.

Down she would swoop, in the darkened night,

Down she would swoop, in the deepest night,

And abduct little girls who did not listen to their mothers.

 

As I grew older, I knew that the Queen of Voodoo

Who destroys little girl dreams had another name.

Katrina.

You should have seen her

When she came through and gobbled up my city.

Without me, it had survived until 2005

When she opened her maw wide and ate it away.

 

She took homes.

She took levees.

She took away dreams and schools and prayers and churches and streets and my father’s roof and the entirety of my sister-in-law’s house.

 

She took away my words.

Like Hamlet, I’ve had them in excess my whole life,

Words, words, words, never to fail me

Until the echo of her strife resonated across state lines to where we cowered,

Like children,

Under her wrath.

 

This is the poem I could not write.

This is the poem I could not write.

This is the poem I could not write

Despite my excess of words.

 

When I heard, finally, from my best friend, the artist, the painter,

I knew the meaning of loss.

Canvasses stretched six by six on each wall,

Canvasses stretched six foot by six foot,

Her art, all

Buried under eight feet of water.

Eight feet of water.

That is negative two feet – words fail but math remains constant.

Her work,

Her art,
her dreams,

Buried, under eight feet of sludge and silt and sewage.

 

More than the levees broke that day.

 

She points to them now, proudly,

She extols them now, loudly,

Her paintbrush in her hand, to gesture where the water landed,

Eight foot,

Six foot,

Four foot,

The lines that write the recession,

The lines that write the progression of the water’s rise and fall.

On her mantle.

On her wall.

On her legs, as she walked through the broken wreckage that was once her home.

 

How to make you understand?

How to get back the words? Words? Words?

 

She thanks them,

The national guard,

Not for her life but her home.

When they broke down her door,

When they busted down her door,

They left it swinging open.

And she thanks them,

Not for her life but her home,

Because when they broke down her door and

Left it swinging open,

The mold did not grow.

 

This is the poem I could not write.

This is the poem I could not write.

This is the poem I could not write

Despite my excess of words.

 

How to tell you of my father,

How to tell you of all fathers who crept back home

Like rats,

Crept back home like rats because they thought they should be ashamed.

They could not name their frustration with

Impotence.

Kept from their homes,

Kept from their homes,

They crept back ashamed.

 

How to tell you of Julia,

She of the Pre-Raphaelite hair,

She, who never cared about government or politics or shame.

Julia, who came seven miles in sludge and silt and sewage

Holding her poetry book and her collected Billie Holiday

Because that, for her, was New Orleans?

 

How to tell you of stories,

Stories of women, sixty-seven years old,

Hacking their ways out of attics with their bare hands and axes,

Still stopping, while floating in sludge and silt and sewage

To save dogs and cats who float by?

 

How to tell you of sunflowers high in the gardens, upon returning home.

Sunflowers and watermelons sparkling in the light?

But poisonous inside, inedible,

Filled with the sludge and silt and sewage

And the dreams of a better life.

 

This is the poem I could not write.

This is the poem I could not write.

This is the poem I could not write

Despite my excess of words.

 

How to tell you of me?

Words have failed me,

For four years words have failed me,

And I have written in choppy bits the pain, the anger, the fury

The words I buried inside.

What she has taken and what I have lost,

The easiness of that Big City.

Words are what I have lost.

My unfinished novel, set in New Orleans, fell in her path.

How could I ever paint her portrait,

Her genteel decay,

Faded away,

Under a hurricane’s impartial hatred?

This is the portrait I have never painted.

 

 

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