for my Books
I wouldn't know how many books I lost
if not for Ryan, twenty-three, who'd drawl
he owned more than two thousand. I recall
the other students owned twenty at the most
and indicated he had double crossed
them. But I became determined, before fall
semester ( even though I'd have to crawl
through attic boxes) I'd count mine; then I'd boast.
Salt mud, filthy, soaked the bottom shelves, gummy
black pages. Higher up, the mold embossed
the first edition hardbacks. That stunned me—
to save twelve, see three thousand others tossed.
Behind the bookshelves is what still appalls:
such beautiful black roses on white walls.
published in Copper Nickel
* * *
Walking the Dog
in memory of The Colonel
After Hurricane Georges I had promised by friend, the Colonel, that I would help her. Because of the sudden turn in Katrina, we waited until Sunday to evacuate. During stops on the three hours it took to exit New Orleans, I walked her dachshund. The sky, the lush green, was effervescent. The August weight of the air had been replaced by a Kunderan unbearable lightness. I had the sense I would never see New Orleans again. In some ways I never have.
Between her failing health and her fear, she had forgotten her two tasks: fill the tank and buy two cases of water. Five hours and twenty miles later I saw the tank was nearly empty. All stations were out of gas, and all exits were barricaded against non-residents by local police. One small station did have gas; I walked in just as the electricity went out. I paid cash for two bottles of water and some junk food. He invited us to park on a hill for the night.
We shared our water with her dog and my cat. It may be hard to believe, but I slept soundly. The Colonel told me that twice the wind lifted the front tires from the ground. We pulled down the hill, parking next to a gas pump. My cell phone, all pay phones, and the radio were out; we couldn't run the a/c; no one we met knew any more than we did. We did hear that New Orleans was damaged but not as badly as we had feared. The Colonel started having palpitations and nearly drained the tank on the a/c. We spent Monday night parked beside the gas pump.
Tuesday a few others arrived. One woman walked in circles, pulling her hair, repeating, "They threw me out of the car!" I kept walking the dog. Two young women pulled in with several bottles of water; I begged them for one which I gave to the paste-colored Colonel. We watched caravans of trucks with generators, trucks from electric companies, and army trucks rumble past. When troops from Ohio—the Colonel's home state—filed by, she began to cry. An oil truck pulled in and hosed gas into the pumps. But with no electricity, we spent another night parked beside the pump.
Wednesday morning, a couple of women opened the station door, then locked it behind them. They soon let me in, but not the dozen or so people of color outside. I said I only wanted a little water and a snack, that there were others who needed it as badly as we did. One woman said, jerking her head toward the door, "Honey, you take all you want. Don't you worry none about them."
That evening we heard there was gas down the road. We got enough to head north, stopping at a motel in Missouri where we turned on the TV. It was the first we knew that the levees had failed. We sat on the side of the bed and cried.