Taste of a Hurricane

 The sky is believe blue

and I am running

the taste of a hurricane

lots and lots of vacant lots

and glowing cat eyes dawn

through city streets gone wild

tall grass and empty space

cut short.

 

Sweating in Cynthia’s house

masked, air close, like a tomb

we scale ladders, balance the beams

Up, down, and side to side

circle, circle, cut the pie

scraping away the dead

skin of this place

attic, kitchen, closet,

leaving our hearts behind.

 

Running in the night

street-corner celebration

urine, vomit, beads, dance

to the jazz parade playing,

trombones long.

Band in a van

drum beat pounding

the taste of a hurricane.

 

Miss Josephine feeds us

jambalaya, bread pudding,

sweet and thick.

Thirty-six months to get back

to her kitchen

but she made it all

with thanks for her life, and us

and in one lunch she gives more

than we could ever return.

 

Juan carries pirate

in his blood, struggling.

His disappearing land: water, palmetto, silt.

Fish and oil, scarce and spilled

with recklessness.

He will work on the rig

once the shrimp and crabs are caught

running tours and calling:

Viens ici, cher bayou,

Viens ici!

 

We are running on the beach

like in Baywatch

diving in water and sand

after a lopsided ball

we will get sunburned

and see stars

bring home the Gulf shore, in our shoes

and sleep sound, through the snoring.

 

Mississippi rising

behind the sugar plant, too close to home.

and Tanya worries

the taste of a hurricane.

Sorting boards in the lumberyard,

muddy smell of cypress in the heat

No pools to cool kids in summer

and Joby has the car packed, just in case

he would swim, if he had to

because this is home.

 

May Day rain at Magnolia, students blooming

playing Duck, Duck Goose with Justin

and the beanbag toss, the dunk-tank.

Robert paints teeth, asks us to write

while Adam flips the bird, grins.

After the talent show we pick

out art to pack in our suitcases

learning like we never learned

at school before:

how the most valuable things

are packed up on the inside.

 

We are running along the levee

to the shore of the industrial canal

to see the ships, the shore

lifting with the bridge

climbing concrete in the sun.

If we could keep running

away from home

we would run to here

to find out what it means,

New Orleans, already missing

the taste of a hurricane.

 

-Daphne Paszterko, June 2011.

I wrote this poem as a series of flashes of our experience in NOLA – the different places we worked and some of the amazing people that we met during the trip.  I also wanted to capture how I think we were captivated by New Orleans, and how so many of us want to go back.

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