Landscape organizes everything within sight.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Mourning New Orleans

60-80% of homes in and around New Orleans will be destroyed. Not damaged, destroyed.

Without news, studying in my rooms in Pembroke, having no thoughts at all of hurricanes or the Atlantic or North America, for days I'd been thinking about my grandmother's apartment in Louisiana, a place where I haven't been for a decade at least -- revisiting all the rooms, running my hands over every surface, trying to recall the city, the low oak branches slung with spanish moss, the farmhouses of my aunts, the empty dirty streets of the busted downtown.

I read James's entry, and then lay down for a couple of minutes, till I found the City of New Orleans, a frowning statue of white marble, and we sat at the bottom of the ocean together, looking up at the sunlight filtered through grimy water, looking around for what might have been a place, for all the seedy motels, for all the homeless people in the poor hospital, for the garden district, the streetcars, the avenues lit up with lamps.

And I felt suddenly angry at the rest of America; why couldn't *it* wash into the ocean? If only the Hamptons and the houses of the Murdochs and movie stars would wash into the sea. It would be glorious, like a de Mille disaster. It would scare the American people into self-examination and reform. If a tornado swept Dallas away it'd do the city good. But New Orleans, waiting for it, expecting it all these years. So I kissed the belly of the City of New Orleans and felt how red-hot it was with steam and venom and salt and spew, and I went outside to smoke half a pack of cigarettes and drink a full glass of whiskey in honor of my dead grandmother.

Outside the Japanese students and the work-study Brits were playing croquet, and the sun was bright, and I could only imagine that the whole of this place was paper thin, and melting away on the wind.

My grandmother would've put down the bourbon and cigarettes and gone out to drive ambulances through the swamp for the next several weeks. I want to be there too, driving an ambulance through the flooded swamp.

And I saw all of the people leaving New Orleans, and I thought about all the people who had passed through, I thought of Johnny Cash and Lucinda Williams and William Faulkner and my ex and the dirty motel and the trailer park underworld we shared there, and the New Englander friends who visited the South in their convertible on a lark, and the church camp kids giggling over mardi gras as they winged their way past the brothels, and I thought about that city as a soul, or an angel, holding onto everything morbid and hateful and contradictory in America. Going under water like the first angel to blow the first trumpet of the apocalypse of global warming. But I hate that it had to be *her*.

I love her for her sense of doom. I love her for her exaggerated passions. I love her when she's mistaken by the outside world for a cutesy tourist attraction but stays trigger-happy and murderous and fucked up on drugs. She's the contradiction of twentieth-century America in one go: the evangelical preacher in the midst of social diseases for which he has no cure. I'm cradling that city in my mind.


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