Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Hurricane Katrina on the Ground and in Poetry

Seven years ago, New Orleans was being slammed by hurricane Katrina. I didn't watch it happen in real time, or even see much about it. I remember hearing a radio snippet for a brief time when the power blipped on and then blipped off again. The levees had been breached, but had not broken. We know how that was about to turn out.

No, we were dealing with this:

It's a downed ficus tree with my spouse and his chain saw in the foreground of the picture. The standing tree stretched across the whole back border of our fence. The downed tree took up our whole back yard.

The pictures are grainy, because they've been scanned and saved through many formats. What you can't see underneath the green at the lower right is a smushed shed.

The picture below gives a bit of a sense of perspective. Look to the left of the picture, and you'll see my spouse by the fence. You can see the twisted trunk of the tree rising in the center of the picture.

Some day, I'll scan the rest of the pictures. We've got a great picture of the tree on top of the shed, very Wizard of Oz.

Of course, we lost most everything in that shed. But it could have been much worse. The tree brushed the wall of our house as it gently fell over, after a day of soaking rain, but it didn't go through the roof or the windows. I'm still not sure what prevented that.

We spent a week cleaning up what we could, and then the insurance folks finally got in touch with us, and we used the insurance payment to have an arborist company finish the job. We never could have done the trunk grinding by ourselves.

If you want a book-length treatment of hurricane Katrina in poems, I recommend two wonderful books. Patricia Smith's Blood Dazzler does amazing things, an astonishing collection of poems that deal with Hurricane Katrina. I love the way that Katrina comes to life. I love that a dog makes its way through these poems. I love the multitude of voices, so many inanimate things brought to life (a poem in the voice of the Superdome--what a cool idea!). I love the mix of formalist poetry with more free form verse and the influence of jazz and blues music. An amazing book.

In Colosseum, Katie Ford also does amazing things. She, too, writes poems of Hurricane Katrina. But she also looks back to the ancient world, with poems that ponder great civilizations buried under the sands of time. What is the nature of catastrophe? What can be saved? What will be lost?

I fear we'll be asking these questions more and more in the 21sr century.

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