"Excuse my French, everybody in America, but I am pissed."
-- then-mayor of New Orleans Ray Nagin
September 4, 2005
There, where the bodies now float in rancid water, is where I was born.
There, where tens of thousands huddled in dark squalor, tense fear and gnawing hunger, is where I saw my first circus and my first football game.
There, where a levee broke and floods inundated neighborhoods to the roofs of modest century-old homes, is where I went to high school.
There, where mountains of trash litter the streets, feces fills the air with stench, and corpses slowly rot, I drank hurricanes -- the beverage, not the fetid stormwaters -- and flowed with a sea of humanity in a communion of joie de vivre.
There, where a newborn lake settles in a perfect oval, I ate jambalaya and listened to Ray Charles, Dr. John and Sun-Ra.
Many miles up the river, where hundreds of thousands now congregate, cut off from their homes and jobs, knowing for a moment how fragile and uncertain life always is under its veneer of stability, is where I went to college.
Since then I have lived elsewhere, but always returned to visit family and friends, trying to get back there at least once a year. Now I wonder when I will see New Orleans again, and what I will see when I get there.
Floods, floods, floods, floods.
The first flood, the storm surge, thirty feet of water leveling the Mississippi coast, a tragedy so immense and we believed then that it was the only one, but we were wrong.
The second flood, the collapsing of levees that must have had souls to hold out so long, straining to keep back the second flood, but they couldn't, and New Orleans became the name not of a city, but of a disaster.
Then came the flood of emotions. Awe, at the scope of destruction; gut-wrenching horror, sorrow, unbelieving shock, waiting for and expecting help that didn't come, rising frustration and anger, bitterness, wondering, joy at the outpouring of giving.
Finally, finally, finally, a flood of food, drinking water, and rescues.
And now, a flood of words.