After the storm, my brother went to New Orleans
to work demolition. He’s a skinny 6’2”,
so you have to picture him suiting up like an astronaut
in the giant Hazmat gear, long arms and legs
encased in blue plastic as he waded through the waste land
of street garbage, a red cross stamped on his back.
His crew was assigned to gutting houses in the Lower
Ninth Ward. Each morning they would pull on
face masks and steel shank boots,
climb into the back of a pickup truck and drive east
toward the broken levee and row-houses
hanging onto their foundations
by a few bright threads of insulation. Inside
they tore out the cabinets and appliances, pushed
furniture through windows and onto the sidewalk,
rolled up the carpet where a dog had died,
water’s cruel molecule welding its limbs to the rug.
And the water was everywhere, in the light fixtures,
the clogged bathtubs, even an unbroken row of glasses
on the top shelf in the kitchen. He only saw
one resident his whole time there, a man
who told him he was lucky—a white boy—to even
see this neighborhood. But the scariest thing
was the lack of women, only a city of men. And at night
when his crew drove back to their base
through the ravaged, abandoned streets, there were no kids
on the swing sets, the shops standing open but empty, not even the relief
of military personnel positioned on the corner—
they’d taken their machine guns and gone home.
Even so, he said it must be what war is like:
sudden desertion, irreconcilable absence.
One day he opened a closet and discovered
one hundred pairs of women’s shoes, silt-soaked
but in tact, lined up perfectly, the heels
in back of the flats. He carried them all
out into the street—the spoon still in the sugar bowl, a roll of condoms
tucked in the dresser, the keys he found hanging from a lock.
“Hurricane” first appeared in Southern Hum, Issue Three.