New Orleans: Horrible and Sublime

I had an amazing time in New Orleans. Parts of the city are thriving again --  as if "the storm" (that's what everybody calls Katrina down there) never happened and the inept/corrupt local and national government didn't leave hundreds to die and suffer. I wish I could tell you the entire city is back to normal, but there are still heartbreaking scenes. 

The most terrible thing I saw was the tent city underneath I-10 along Claiborne Avenue at Canal Street. This is the same tent city that John Edwards mentioned while he was campaigning in New Orleans and Fox Network fascist Bill O'Reilly said didn't exist. I can assure you, it does. There were dozens upon dozens of tents, sleeping bags and other makeshift campsite on the concrete slab between the expressway support pillars. Across Claiborne are the high walls of St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 and 2. The Times-Picayune said in its Saturday edition that many of the people camped there lost their homes in the flooding; some are mentally ill. There have been as many 300 people living in tent city at one time and last week there were more than 120. The city and government have done little -- if anything -- to help and it's shameful. Even a used FEMA trailer is better than sleeping rough. The video above was not taken by me, but posted by someone at YouTube, but this was exactly what I saw.

Charity Hospital on Tulane Avenue -- a big hulking Art Deco building that looks like something out of Gotham City -- was the city's go-to for the poor and mentally ill. This is where hundreds of patients and staff suffered with no water or electricity to help the injured and dying for a week after the storm. It's closed and may never re-open, but lights still burn inside. All those patients scattered as Katrina approached and the poor and ill are still suffering because of the hospital being closed. There are lawsuits to reopen it, others who want to demolish it. If you watch the windows long enough, it looks like shadows move through the light. This image is how one of the new poems I'm writing begins.
                                
We saw a little bit of the Lower Ninth Ward. It's just what you'd expect and worse. There are still so many areas of the city -- the ones tourists will never see -- where time has stood still since August, 2005. There's rebuilding -- including a new bridge for I-10 across Lake Pontchartrain -- but east New Orleans is still a wreck. One of the most arresting sites was on the far eastern side of the Ninth Ward, where the abandoned Mega Zeph roller coaster and rides from Six Flags New Orleans loom over the destruction. The park was heavily damaged and Six Flags doesn't want to come back, so it's trying to get out of its 75-year lease with the city. The Times-Picayune is reporting another company wants to take over the site and expand it with more rides. 

Theresa Davis -- the hardest working poet/spoken word artist in the biz -- flew into New Orleans yesterday morning just to perform and sit on a panel with Mark Doty, Joan Larkin and Kay Murphy at the Saints & Sinners Literary Festival. Just a few hours before, she had been at the LEAF festival in North Carolina, coming in third place in their big poetry slam. While Doty, Larkin and Murphy (DLM) sat behind a table and read, Theresa was up in front of the audience wowing them. When they started talking about process and received forms, Theresa cut through to the emotional heart of why she writes. I'm sure DLM had no idea what they were getting when Theresa was added to their panel at the last minute. That's not putting DLM down, because Mark was excellent as always and Kay read a beautiful poem about losing her collection of 3,000 books in Hurricane Katrina. A very good panel. I also finally got to meet Trebor Healey in person. We interviewed each other for Velvet Mafia by phone and email when Slow To Burn came out. You can read that interview here.

I did most of the driving on the way back and I do have a bit of a lead foot. The TomTom GPS said we wouldn't arrive back in Atlanta until 10:30 p.m. but we were at my door at 9:30. Yeah, I was hauling serious ass. It was an uneventful trip home, with Theresa and Mindy sleeping in the backseat, Megan reading and working on a new poem and lots of good music: Dusty Springfield, Peter Gabriel, U2, Blondie.

David Matthew Barnes -- who got us the gig at Saints & Sinners in the first place, so big props to him -- said he wants to submit a panel proposal for next year. I'm all over it. New Orleans, in all its beauty and despair, is still one of my spiritual homes. 

Comments

Lisa Allender said…
Yaaa, Collin, for giving us all the goods (and the sad stories, too) on New Orleans.
I LOVE that image of the shadows in the window(that you may see if you look long enough)...
Perhaps your poem will illuminate for this country how (once again) their government was blind to what it needed to do for these people(now "ghosts")
Anonymous said…
That video is very sad. They need to get those people into proper shelter.

GAV
Dustin said…
Looking forward to reading your new work...

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