Nouveaux Orleans, Old Story

I.
They’d been there 10,000 years:
Caddo, Natchez, Atakapa, Chitimachan, Muskogean, Tunican and more
fishing on fertile flood plains.
Sapphire-skied summer day three months long;
Sunflower, squash, beans and maize.
Time began one colorless day in 1519,
dragged in by the hungry blue-eyed wolves:

They came:
Panfilo de Narvaez of Spain,
trading small pox blankets for gold;
Robert Cavalier of France in 1682,
indigo, rice and tobacco obsessed.
German peasants from the Upper Rhine,
Cajuns descended from exiles
driven from the French colony of Acadia by the British in 1755
built homes and boats from cypress;
trapped crawfish, crabs, shrimp and oysters,
fury little nutria and muskrat,
grew rice, hot peppers and okra,
Served up Jambalya and gumbo feasts,
turtle sauce piquante, andoille sausage, boudin, crawfish etouifee, shrimp this and that,
and none of it half as rich as the medley of arriving cultures,
nor as difficult to digest–
Where once the view had been broken only by the smoke of a sweat lodge,
a savings bank now stood.

They came:
more Spanish, French, Anglo Saxons.
Came French conversant creoles
with skin the color of unbaked dough,
born from the twining of French and Spanish flesh,
All came ready to claim their stakes in the land
without soiling their nails.
Instead they purloined Yoruba and West African hands
darker than the richest earth
capable of turning the most fallow plot to gold.

II.
They arrived shackled, scarred, dragged, half-drowned on Yemayá’s back,
queen mother of the sea;
children torn away like limbs,
eventually settled by Oshun, the Mississippi river;
brought their gods and shells, hidden behind catholic crosses and churches,
vadu, voodoo, santería.

And so the great city rose up,  multiplied,
generation after generation built layer upon layer
over the bones of the dead;
the cries of birth pains muffled by the now familiar sounds of traffic,
hypnotic jazz and throaty blues.

Back behind impressive desks hosting an array of electronic buttons and papers
capable of amassing armies and parting nations,
suited pale men clucked at the cracks in a levy
growing like coins in an overdue jackpot
filled with someone else’s money.

Then came the rains, then the torrents;
cyclonic winds of a planet spinning out of balance,
trying to find its way back to the right track.
The levies crumbled under the weight of unfathomable greed.
Water rushed forth like gold beyond the wildest fantasies of some very few,
Snatching up treasures and flesh,
it grew black and thick as blood;
a foul smelling stew harboring drowned infant dreams,
futures belly up like floating corpses,

An African American gripped the hand of his life-long companion
like a captain would his line to the main sail during a fierce storm at sea,
“You can’t hold me.  Nothing can hold me.  Take good care of the kids!”  she shrieked
before the current claimed its new bride.

Each day, a man running emergency management for Jefferson Parish
spoke to his mother trapped in St. Bernard nursing home.
“Are you coming, son?  Is somebody coming?”
“Yeah, Mama, somebody’s coming to get you on Tuesday,”  he prayed.
“Mama, somebody’s coming to get you on Wednesday.”
“Mama, on Thursday.”
On Friday night she was dead.

At last,  having arrived at the government’s promised Superdome land,
somebody’s great-grandfather, uncle, husband and son
died in his lawn chair awaiting help.
The body rotted in the tropic September heat
as the police, national guard, mayor, governor, president and garbage collectors passed the buck.

In the jail, the guards fled, locking those still awaiting trial inside.
The prisoners stood on their cots
to keep their shoulders above water more foul-smelling
than the stench of dead rats or fecal distress;
the toilets had all backed up.
They burned sheets as a smoke signal to the humanity outside,
and none came.
On the outside, the free citizens stood on their rooftops,
waving unshackled arms, making far away calls,
pleading at television news cameras and microphones.
Still, no cavalry came,
no fleets of helicopters, no campaigns of air-dropped food,
no guards restoring order, rebuilding homes, no soldiers sandbagging.
Not even from the belly of the world’s most envied abundance,
Afterall, how did it manage to amass the wealth of so many nations?
Instead the INS raided the Honduran community,
police patrolled the streets arresting anyone trying to distribute food.
And the fifth estate of democracy
condemned all African Americans breaking into abandoned stores
to distribute the lifeline provisions denied them by their own government
as hoodlems in violation of the sanctity of corporate profit.
While down the street, some white firemen laughed,
tipsy on the beer they had stolen from a nearby bar.

And so without the trouble of eviction notices,
the dwellers of the coveted real estate abandoned their claims.
A man stood on the top stoop of his flooded home craning his neck to see if he was alone.
His greatest fear was that his Black neighbors would be lost forever,
scattered in a diaspora stretching from Baton Rouge and Houston to Utah and Washington State.
Some did return, however,
too late to contest the 3-day eviction notices
and lost their homes.
And so, unable to afford the higher rents to relocate,
they turned ‘round again and departed the city built by their ancestors.

III.
They came:
not bearing aid
but contracts to evacuate the holdouts
as part of their Homeland Security Service packages:
Blackwater, DynCorp, Intercon, American Security Group, Blackhawk, Wackenhut
and the Israeli Instinctive Shooting International,
with resumes of ethnic cleansing, money laundering and sex slave trafficking
in faraway lands like Kosovo.
They congregated at the corner of St. James and Bourbon at the 711 bar,
the new Blackwater headquarters,
scattered some unlucky family’s mattresses to the street below,
clothes, books, photographs,  a white stuffed bunny,
and draped an American flag from the balcony’s railing as in Iraq.
Troops from the 82nd Airborne Division stood in formation, watching,
while a journalist named Jeremy Scahil took it all in.

As dirty lines marked the water’s slow descent on the sides of buildings and cars,
Blackwater began training 2,000 new border patrol agents.
Near the impoverished Ninth Ward,
Bodyguard and Tactical Security boasted about executing
some African American males on an overpass.
“This is a trend,”  a Blackwater mercenary commented.
“You’re going to see a lot more guys like us in these situations.”
US troops may not be able to shoot civilians, but corporations will repeal Posse Comitatus.
as had the KKK in these parts;
afterall, didn’t obliterating the checks and balances between government, military and corporation
in Germany, Italy and Franco’s Spain,
prove lucrative, not so long ago?

They came:
The buses tearing hundreds of infants and children away from their parents
without any effort to label the voiceless human cargo,
triggering flashbacks in the grandparents of kidnappings by slave-holders the previous century
kidnappings of black Aboriginal children by Australian welfare officers just the previous decade
as part of an official campaign to “breed out the color.”
Months later, 1300 missing children claims would be filed.
At some of the hearings a senator will instruct an elderly witness
to stop referring to the government’s feces-turfed Superdome as a concentration camp.
“Why?  We were tortured.  Many of my family members were killed.”
6,000 missing;
More than twice the number of those lost in World Trade Center tragedy
used to justify all the dead in the Middle East.
The pleas once heard in South Africa, San Salvador, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Mexico,
uttered by indigenous Americans centuries ago,
now pronounced again upon U.S. soil
as the pyramid scheme honored on the shadow-side of the dollar bill
built on the now shattered backbone of the Third World
bottoms out, leaving only the
losers.

Then at long last,
they came,
representatives of the Presidential White House and
Federal Emergency Management Agency set up to ameliorate such tragedies,
Invited by Joe Allbaugh, the former FEMA head:
Kellogg Brown & Root;  TruePosition; Shaw Group; UltraStrip,
the vice president’s Halliburton corporation and Disney
with plans to gather all the fractured dream shards, ripped ligaments and ruptured promises
and bury them under the machinery of a giant, shiny New Orleans theme park.

Then came
the bulldozers which snapped Rachel Corry’s spine in Palestine
for putting it between the flimsy homes of those with little else
and the Caterpillar wheels
now in the Ninth Ward with orders to flatten 5,500 houses.
An 85-year old man waited breathlessly for a hearing to save his home of 50 years
White internationalists got him two more weeks.

Oh, Yemayá and Oshun,
take pity on those innocent of spreading cancer in your waters.
They are but indentured servants to those melting polar icecaps.
The ones you would punish
own the SUV’s patrolling the city with full blast air-conditioning.

But we are not punishing anyone, they respond.
We are, simply, that is all.
Our ebb and flow brings death, as well as life
chaos, tragedy and rejoicing.
Was it not your economic system which caused this disaster?

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