Poetry

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Thoughts on the Katrina Flood by One Who Grew Up in
 New Orleans But Never Lived There as an Adult
by Lionel E. Deimel

 

French Quarter balconies

I never attended a jazz funeral

Nor watched a strip show on Bourbon Street.

I never viewed the meeting of the courts of Rex and Comus

Nor saw the Krewe of Zulu give out painted coconuts.

I never met a voodoo priestess

Nor danced the night away on the S.S. President.

I never set foot inside the Southern Yacht Club

Nor carried a hurricane from bar to bar.

 

But I rode the streetcar to high school

And climbed the live oaks in City Park.

I rode the Zephyr at Pontchartrain Beach

And enjoyed café au lait and beignets at Café Du Monde.

I ate breakfast at Brennan’s

And stood in line in the street for dinner at Galatoire’s.

I sat on the floor listening to jazz at Preservation Hall

And picked boiled crabs on newspaper-covered tables.

I dressed as an Indian on Mardi Gras

And watched the parades on Canal Street.

I threw beads to the crowds from a truck

And recoiled from a flambeau dropped carelessly at my feet.

I rode out Hurricane Betsy in a dark shelter

And thanked God that my house didn’t flood.

 

 

It has been hard for me, a native New Orleanian, to articulate a reaction to the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina. It is at once inconceivable, yet what everyone had long feared.

I left New Orleans to attend college in Chicago and, except for summers, never lived there again. I had always thought that I had somehow missed the essential New Orleans experience, but, writing this poem, I realized that I have many wonderful memories of a city that may be gone forever. I did not so much miss out on great New Orleans experiences, as, like young people everywhere, failed to appreciate them when I had them.

This poem was written 9/17/2005 and was revised slightly 10/13/2005. I added “Katrina” to the title to clarify, independent of any external annotation, which flood inspired the poem. I also shortened three lines. The original second line was

Nor watched a strip show on Bourbon Street, save for a glimpse through an open door.

which suffered from being too long and from emphasizing something I did do within the list of what I did not do. The detail is interesting—I used to see strippers as I rode by on the bus—but somewhat out of place. The line about boiled crabs at first ended with “newspaper-covered wooden tables.” Eliminating “wooden” shortened the line and improved its rhythm. The line about the flambeau was initially

And recoiled from a flambeau that a careless carrier dropped at my feet.

That line was especially clumsy, and I do think the replacement is a great improvement, even though the actor in this scary incident no longer appears explicitly.

For those unfamiliar with Mardi Gras, I should explain that flambeaux are the traditional kerosene torches carried on wooden poles that used to be the only mechanism to provide light for nighttime parades. I have always assumed that the flambeau that frightened me as a child was dropped by accident, although it is possible that it was intentionally thrown to the ground because it malfunctioned.

— LED, 10/14/2005

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