ABOUT A week and a half ago, I was pushing memories around in my head. They’d come unbidden, stray phrases and images. I didn’t think I had a home for them just yet.
I hadn’t planned to write anything formal about Katrina and the flood, but it was on my mind — taking up more than backspace. Last week all that circular thinking started surfacing as full sentences. And finally, in a block of focused days I had a piece. It ran yesterday in the Los Angeles Times, you can find it here.
One of the things about my post-Katrina New Orleans and the absence of my blood-ties is that it’s left me thinking about the people who used to live around the folks I once visited as part of that summer ritual. I think about this as I wander New Orleans trying to locate sites that no longer exist on any map. I remember generations of families who had remained on one block passing on not just an address but a hibiscus and iris garden, a porch with a ceiling painted blue like a spring sky. Even an attic ghost. On this side of the family line, I am the last person to hold those memories, to know what it was before: The stories and the voices — the intricately built sentences — I will carry in my head I know, but these are the features will always define New Orleans for me.
Just last week, I was speaking to my friend Mark Broyard, an artist who lives here in L.A. and has deep New Orleans roots. As I note in the piece, after Katrina, he went back to help but also to bear witness. Photograph and collect debris that he would ultimately make into art. I remember the first time I saw the piece above, I didn’t have words. It hit someplace so deep, I cried.
(Broyard has other work in a group show, “Hard Edged” now up at the California African American Museum.)
With all of the trumpeting of “recovery” and “resilience,” my hope is that we will all remember — remember that there is so much more to do, to finish, to fix. To make whole. I’m realizing more and more that I’d like to find a place in that.
And as a guide, to keep in mind, that that new spot you’ve landed in — your new domain — that was once someone else’s garden, porch, ghost; it was once someone else’s dream.
Katrina Series Image courtesy Mark Broyard