I've always wanted to go to New Orleans. Visit the Latin Quarter, see the famous wrought iron balcony railings, listen to the jazz that has shimmied down the decades from Satchmo's and King Oliver's trumpets, pay my respects at the grave of Marie Laveau (the "Voodoo Queen"), eat a beignet dusted with delicately sweet powdered sugar.
I've always wanted to see the )places in the bayou where the Manilamen lived and gathered, descendants of the first Asians, the first Filipinos to set foot on North American soil. I've dreamed of traveling to New Orleans, maybe doing a residency there, spending time on streets where funeral parades are like carnivals, with tuba and trumpet and trombone swinging away.
I've always felt a strange spiritual kinship with that city--perhaps it's because of my natural affinity with the sea, with the peculiar psychic energy that is generated by places that sit on the edge of large bodies of water, whether they be oceans named Pacific or gulfs that spew hurricanes like San Francisco draws fog.
But I never made it to New Orleans, never got to fulfill my romantic fantasy. And now I feel like weeping because this magical city that was the birthplace of jazz, and the inspiration for so many artists and dreamers, has been drowned by a hurricane with an ironically pretty name: Katrina. I feel like weeping because I will never get to see New Orleans, not the way she was.
I feel like weeping because I go to CNN and see Black people, poor people, people who didn't have much to begin with, their faces drawn and scarred with the agony of seeing and knowing that death is so, so close, that the waters of the sky and the earth are all around them, and that there is never enough help and food and safety to go around when you are Black, poor, or don't have much to begin with, in America.
I feel like weeping even though I hardly wept when the tsunami hit in Thailand and Indonesia and Africa, the wave that killed hundreds of thousands of people just the day after Christmas. For some reason, now, I want to weep long and hard for New Orleans and her people. Maybe it's my PMS or just the fact that I can somehow relate to those people trapped on rooftops and in the Astrodome, those victims of a natural disaster so mind-boggling that even usually stoic CNN reporters are breaking down in tears during their on-air time; maybe I can relate to them because I live in the Bay Area, at a conjunction of several major fault lines, where the earth trembles nearly every hour even if we don't feel her shivers, where death is always close by, though silent and waiting. Where even the threat of such natural tragedies could never keep me from staying here, living here, in a place full of beauty and mystery and history.
I feel like weeping when I read emails saying that a comrade who lives in New Orleans is safe, and when I remember the other folks--like Xochitl whom I just saw a few weeks ago in Albuquerque, who offered me a place to hang out if I ever wanted to come down to the Big Easy--the other folks I know who live in New Orleans. Even though they are not my best friends or family members, I still want to weep because I don't know where they are or what's happened to them.
I want to weep, but the tears won't come. So I weep words instead. And pray.
P.S. Please make a generous donation to the relief efforts; the people of New Orleans need us.
Poetry Saturday: Frederick Seidel
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