THE KATRINA EFFECT


As I lectured about Okies and dust bowls and
the Great Depression, my students and I watched
CNN on a mute, wall-mounted behemoth.
I scoured images for recognizable landmarks
—dilapidated bridges, towering casinos, stretches of
man-made beach, just one wind-whipped sign
capable of geographically confirming
my homeplace. Stored cell phones numbers
cast up toward heaven like backsliders' testimony
(with exactly the same effect). Then one-by-one,
we received proof of life,
confirmed, safety of both life and limb.

 

So we began
washing linens, laying out
giant bath bars, our thickest towels,
collecting clothes and toiletries, buying
whatever we lacked, while preparing
red beans and rice and impromptu crab boils.

 

We opened our doors and our humanity—this once,
genuinely grateful—temporarily and honestly
having forgotten why a four-hour drive
had ever been a necessary ingredient of flight.

 

Domesticity and close quarters took hold.
Grown folk arguing in oh-so-childish ways,
teenagers using washcloths doused with 409 to clean
white leather kicks, continually being told
what various non-mortgage-paying parties won't eat
as they laid in supine anticipation of
my arrival from work to cook and serve
their supper. I should definitely mention children,
attitude-ridden children, surly and passive-aggressive
children with no bedtimes, and their throwback daddies
holding the den, the couch, the remote hostage.
I made a pallet in the walk-in closet and hid.
No one made any pretense about housework. But
the phone rang and rang and rang us
awake way past midnight. Our rough hellos
met by an inexorable silence, and click.
(My mother abandoned her refugees,
cashed in a forgotten voucher to Sedona.) I, too,
must admit: I just wanted those people gone.