A Thousand Saxophones
After Hurricane Katrina—A Poem for the Living and the Dead
You can live by the water and still die of thirst.
I said you can live by the water and still die of thirst
or the worst nightmare come true:
that body of water taking over the bodies.
Sometime, tonight, see which echoes most—
a whisper or a scream. Make it something beautiful,
like, we will endure or Yes, I love you. Sometime,
tonight, think of water—how it purifies or terrifies,
cleanses, gives and takes away—think how fast
some things can rise—water, fear, the intensity of a prayer.
Officials in New Orleans said they want to save the living.
I hope they do. But I hope they can also honor the dead.
On Bourbon Street, there were over 3,000 musicians employed
on any given day. Last night, before I fell asleep,
I imagined what a thousand saxophones
would sound like if they all played together—
one thousand saxophones, different songs,
different tempos, Dixieland, Miles Davis.
Maybe it would sound like birds or bombs,
planes or preachers praising the Word
on a hot Sunday and the congregation saying Amen,
some people whispering it, some people screaming it.
Maybe it would sound like lightning tearing
open the sky or a thousand books slammed shut after
a horrible conclusion, or a thousand children crying for their
mothers or fathers. Last night, I thought, how far
would a thousand saxophones echo from New Orleans or Biloxi?
Would we hear them in Fresno? Could we imagine the sound?
Could Baton Rouge? Could Washington D.C.?
I don’t know what I should tell you.
But I feel like the saints are marching.
They are singing a slow, deep, and beautiful song,
waiting for us to join in.
A Thousand Saxophones was previously published in Hurricane Blues: Poems About Katrina and Rita (Southeast Missouri State University, 2006)