Tag Archives: disasters

The Undertow

Halfway up to Shreveport
driving to outrun the storm
I knew somehow there’d be no going back.
There was no sign yet of water
and the breeze was soft and warm
but the skyline in the rearview mirror was black.
We had a hunch that morning we should go;
thinking that we’d just be gone a day or so.

We spent all day Monday
with an eye on the TV,
watching as the worst seemed to go by.
Listening to the talking heads
outside on Bourbon Street
who kept the cameras pointed at the sky.
But when we heard the levees busted through
we didn’t need a photograph, we knew

All those years of living were a span of borrowed time,
and it really doesn’t matter which was yours and which was mine.
It don’t make no difference where you want to lay the blame
’cause the score ends up with both sides at zero
if you don’t watch the undertow.

We drove back to Natchitoches
to sleep at a hotel,
the lobby filled with countless refugees,
each one of us in limbo
under some strange kind of spell
thinking life should offer up some guarantee.
But it never really happens quite that way;
all you really ever have is just today.

And the headlines in the paper
went from bad to even worse:
seems the uglier, the more it lingered on.
With the worst part the denial
from those safe and dryly perched
that the place we thought was home was really gone.
It took a while before the truth sunk in:
that we had no choice but to begin again.

All your years of living are a span of borrowed time,
and it really doesn’t matter what is yours and which is mine.
It don’t make no difference where you want to lay the blame
’cause what’s up ends up in pieces down below
if you don’t watch the undertow.

28 APR 2006

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To Let New Orleans Die

There’s a hole in the levee where my city used to be
and there’s talk of the future in the papers, on TV
but the truth of the matter is quite obvious to see
nothing’s gonna be the way it used to be

Some still say that the water washed away some evil sin
and that God cleansed the palette so that He could start again
but the truth of the matter is not hard to comprehend:
it’s the end of our longing to pretend.

No one should ever be so poor that they should need rely
on folks that really don’t care if they live or if they die.
Whatever dream we started on has shriveled up and dried
still waiting for the haves to all decide
the cost to let New Orleans die.

There’s a hole in the levee and the money’s pouring out
into the Gulf of Mexico and points much further south
while those with lots of nothing figure what to live without
and watch the nonsense that comes from
the politicians’ mouths

Some blame the federal government while others blame the state;
still others, the Big Easy’s leaders; a few, they blame fate.
The truth, though, is quite simple: far too little, far too late,
and denying it is to prevaricate.

No one should ever be so poor that they should need rely
on folks that really don’t care if they live or if they die.
Whatever dream we started on has shriveled up and dried
still waiting for the haves to all decide
the cost to let New Orleans die.

From this, let little people take a lesson they can use.
you think we’re all together, well, just watch the evening news:
you’re out there in the undertown, and others get to choose;
remember, when the chips are down
the house will let you lose.

04 APR 2006

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Musicares and Musicrising

Don’t say there’s nothing good on television.

The other day I was watching TV and a commercial came on that featured U2‘s The Edge walking through the toxic streets of New Orleans, picking up broken guitars. It then showed him handing a new guitar to an elderly blues musician.

Turns out Edge is the spokesman for a Nashville-based organization called Music Rising, which is in turn a segment of the MusiCares foundation, a relief fund to assist musicians who have been affected by natural disasters, war, etc. Music Rising is an ambitious program to put instruments back into the hands of every New Orleans (or other Katrina-area) musician who lost everything in the hurricane. Without the music of New Orleans people, Edge so accurately puts it, there’s not much reason to rebuild, nor much really to do it with.

So I visited their website. What’s required to apply for aid is demonstrated work in the music industry for at least five years, and also proof of residence in the hurricane disaster area. So I applied. And guess what? At the end of next week using a special phone number, I am callling Musician’s Friend and placing an order for replacement instruments. Anything in stock at 25% off up to a specified limit (it’s the same for everybody).

Musicians from New Orleans, Pay Attention to This

If you haven’t already, and you qualify, sign up. I think time is running out, and they’re working on a first-come, first-served basis. I believe you’ll only have from the 16th to the 30th of this month to place your order, and it takes a couple of days for them to review your application in Nashville. So get on this, if you’re a musician from New Orleans that’s lost musical equipment. Believe me, this is a far better alternative than trying to justify buying a guitar before a new washer/dryer. And that FEMA/SBA money doesn’t cover luxury or specialty items anyway.

Happy Christmas, yes?

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Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez

Beneath the rust and the gray toxic dust
left behind when the water went down
past the edge of the Quarter’s bright lights and disorder
there’s nothing much left to this town

Maybe the Crescent City was never too pretty
for more than three blocks in a row,
but it made our lives fuller, regardless of color,
and now it’s someplace no one else can know.

You may know what it means to miss New Orleans
from a Mardi Gras record or two
but what’s gone’s gone forever; rebuilding will never
bring back Nawlins rhythm or blues.

‘Cause the heart of this city is broken in two
where the levees burst that afternoon;
and the warm welcome mat that asked “Hey, where ya’t?”
won’t be back again any time soon.

All the grand old traditions, corrupt politicians,
the trash tourists leave every year,
they’re all gone, or in trouble, buried in the rubble
that may take a lifetime to clear.

What they bring back will not be
New Orleans, not to me;
the places they’ve saved just are not
more than pretty postcards
of wrought iron and front yards:
ghosts of the town that care forgot.

08 DEC 2005

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No Useful Illusions

What useful illusions we once had are gone:
that governments serve, that the lowliest pawns
with slow forward motion may yet become kings.
How quickly it seems that the simplest things

become complicated and mired in deceit,
and minor successes engulfed by defeat;
despite constant vigil and unending toil,
the fruits of one’s labors will wither and spoil.

And those who claim otherwise, believing luck
to be the foundation of bargains yet struck,
are lost to insanity greater than most:
that we are prized guests of some kind, noble host

who when we plead hunger, will provide the bread.
‘Tis more often shadows of crust, and instead
of a table of succulent dishes and wine,
more often takes form in less pleasant design.

What artifice leads us, in spite of these truths,
to believe in justice beyond tender youth
and strive for no purpose, for unseen reward,
each beyond the true means that they can afford,

to trust in a government built on such things
as man’s dignity and hope’s gossamer wings,
and think that the tightrope we cross at the top
of the tent has a net below for when we drop?

Illusion, illusion. There is little use
in hoping one’s neck out of reach of the noose;
and justice? Like vultures, the lynch mob rides in,
an anonymous mask for a number of sins.

04 DEC 2005

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The Aftermath

Ain’t no use in looking back;
your eyes will be fooled by the mirror.
What seemed once to be so small,
becomes too big and crystal clear

Ain’t no use in laying blame;
The line between who’s right and wrong
is blurred with every movement on:
The tide rolls in, and then it’s gone.

What good is simply hanging on
to dreams that fade and turn to dust?
We struggle forward ’cause we must,
like darkness crawling to the dawn.

What good is thinking might have beens,
or wishing for some different path?
They won’t help you to understand
or live on in the aftermath.

Ain’t no use in looking back;
let shadows take the past and go.
There’s not much point in memories
that only say I told you so.

Ain’t no use in wondering why;
some things aren’t meant to understand,
and reason’s never all you need
to carry on the best you can.

What good is crying for a dream
that’s faded and returned to dust?
You struggle forward ’cause you must,
like winter’s snow melts into green.

What good is mourning what you’ve lost
in shadows somewhere down the path?
You’ve got to try to start again
and rebuild in the aftermath.

There’s just no point in sad tears
for the wasted years,
the time spent building those castles of sand;
As the new morning nears
and the stormclouds clear
you work with what you’ve got at hand.

What good is trying to hang on
to dreams of what is dead and gone,
leaves turned to dust there on the lawn,
the memory of a faded song

What good is dwelling on the past?
Those days are gone, the die are cast.
You’ve got to play the hand you’re dealt
and live on in the aftermath.

19 NOV 2005

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New Orleans

Dear America:

The day after Katrina passed by New Orleans
and the reporters at the Royal Sonesta Hotel
on Bourbon Street,
in the goddamn sacred French Quarter,
were saying “New Orleans has been spared”
I knew it would come to this.

The day I heard the levees at the river and the lake
had been breeched, leaving New Orleans East
and the Ninth Ward
I knew there would a Convention Center horrowshow,
the elderly and infirm,
the HIV-positive
and countless streams of self-medicated
mentally disturbed
wading through miles of toxic shit
and the garbage from under the streets
of the Quarter.

I knew it would become a race issue
for people outside New Orleans.
People who don’t know what it’s like
to live in a mixed white black neighborhood
that is also middle class.

People who aren’t privileged to understand,
just by driving down three blocks on St. Bernard Avenue, say,
that there are only four kinds of people in this world:
rich people,
poor people,
people pretending to be rich
and people pretending not to be poor.

In other words:
the haves,
the have-nots,
and the have-credits.

What good is sending people back to Covington,
to Metairie, to Harahan … to the freaking CBD?

Without the Ninth Ward, without the poverty that
birthed jazz, without those
underprivileged, undereducated, underemployed,
underwater souls
who would care about the City that Care Forgot?

The great boot of Louisiana is now a dirty sock.
With its great expanse of money-making Democratic blue
washed out
and only the tired elastic red left at the top.

I’m tired. And I’ve lost my home.

And Mayor Nagin,
nothing you can do can bring it back.
‘Cause unless it’s exactly the same,
it won’t be New Orleans.

26 SEP 2005

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