Washing Away

by J. Delacroix

New Orleanians are a strong people
We are born into the battle
Been fighting a war that exists not in history books
But in the heads and hearts of its people

We fight quite simply to remain

I have known people to leave
I have heard the outsiders speak of how hard it is to live in a place
Where booze flows so freely
Where happiness and despair ride such a thin line
The difference is difficult to distinguish
And although they often return
For them, in their absence
Something is lost

I have often imagined, envying those who can get up and go when tragedy strikes
Those who have the sense to make a graceful exit
Before their walls begin to crumble
Before they are forced to bare their souls

I kid my friends who ain’t from New Orleans about how native folks can just tell on sight
That they ain’t from here
You see, maybe the reason we all say hello to one another is because
We need to look into one another’s eyes
Feel at home in what lies behind them
Something maybe only we can see

May 31st
Sitting in what is now Bacchanal
I am relaying a story to a friend who is leaving town
The oil spill has inspired a need to move on for a moment
A need for a break perhaps
Some might call this reaction common sense
I’ve known many of the transplants to take this same course of action
I’ve been known, in desperation, to beg them not to go

The first tears I cried over this spill fell to the floor
Of a building where my father sat as a child
Drinking Coca-Cola and playing pinball while his grandfather sat the bar drinking 7 and 7
This was a little ritual my father and great-grandfather enjoyed before they would proceed
down near the St. Claude bridge
To a little feed store there that sold live chickens
They would pick one up
Take it home and make chicken stew
My father tells me that grandfather would have eaten chicken stew every day if my
great-grandmother would have allowed him
(the thought of this lovely dark-haired woman leaves a taste of sugared orange slice candies in my mouth, always in her pocket, ready awaiting the arrival of the great-grandchildren)


On the corner of Poland and Chartres
Where my father, and my great-grandfather spent so many afternoons
I cried my first tears over this new disaster
Having sat so stoically, so expectantly every single day
Since the first day they announced it
And I wouldn’t have been able to do it anywhere else

This day, a man who I have never met placed a hand on my shoulder
He may have whispered that it would be ok with him if I finally just broke down
That he would be happy to sit here with me
As he sat here so many summer twilights with my father
That I would be safe in the presence of the ghosts of my family
Walking these same floors that he had once walked
Leaning on the same brick walls that had so long ago
Supported his weight


On the corner of Poland and Chartres
I felt my great-grandfather with me
And the comfort of this
My home
Overwhelmed me

This is why we cannot leave

Our roots reach down so deep
They cling to this layer of silt we call land
They reach down into the water
And somehow
They hold on

This is a lesson we have taken to heart
My people are strong

We will drown here under the flood waters of a hurricane
We will suffocate beneath the oil, the dispersants

We will find a way to live or
We will die here before they will make us leave

And when the next disaster strikes
We will sit beside our children
Our grandchildren
Our great-grandchildren
We will console them here in these same buildings
Shelter them here behind these same walls
We will be sure that they know the familiarity of home

Because this
Is the only home we care to know