NEA Big Read, Poem for the Victims of Hurricane Katrina
We've been drowning here for a long time. But it took awhile for people to notice. There was no murky waters or unrelenting waves, it was the silent slaughterer named discrimination. Unaging and unchanging, brutal from its creation like a wolf in sheep's skin, cackling as we reach to pet him. Swallowing up my brothers and sisters until our tears became crashing waves of terror. The first wave was poverty, the lowest of the low lost in the search for stability. It was the claws, the fine print dealings and the eviction notices. The bloodied hands that took and became wealthy off of the sweet scent of suffering.
We've been drowning here for a long time. Even before the colored boys and girls lying limp on the streets, before we could vote, crushed when we tried to sing. Our knees familiar with rocky concrete and feet used to marching. We’ve been drowning, completely invisible and silence apart of our culture. But people only heard us when it came. Only started to see when the sea reached the headlines, it didn't come as a bullet held by a scared man or teenage boy that walked past the wrong house and was too dark to see during the storming night.
No it came as a hurricane, the way many things do, a natural catastrophe one that people could not control but seemed to care more about fixing. A storm known for creating underground cities with no living residents, people known only for staying not leaving. Taking mothers and fathers, it took my brother, my brother, he's gone, I couldn't hold on, his fingers too slick and too small. Help me, god help us.
We've been drowning here for a long time. And even after the hurricane ceased to an end, the water drained back to the sea and the deserted bodies collected and passed back like exam papers. Scores determining whether poor survivors had better sob stories. It's more interesting to hear about a family that had everything and was left with nothing than a family that had nothing even before the hurricane came. We are still drowning, our homes still gone, our loved ones ripped from fragile arms by swirling pools of destruction. Watching organizations rebuild free homes for those who could pay to restart and not the poor left to float through currents.
That's the thing another disaster hits and people forget, frequently using #save- but not remembering the ending. Pushed to the back of the mind, collecting dust, forgetting that there are people still resettling, hosting funerals for empty caskets, waiting for better tides while they accept excuses.
The last lifeboat couldn't fit us all inside, they said, they would come back for us, they said, lying through razor sharp teeth as we watched them pack in more people from the upper state neighborhoods. Leaving us on another roof as the water rises.