5 March 2009 | Vol. 9, No. 1

Sally's Story


I was going. My son, Davie, and Angela

were going. But Catherine would not go.

I was on the phone it seemed like forever.

"I have four cats and two carriers."

Throw your cats in the car.

"It's going to turn." Come with me

to Baton Rouge. "Don't worry."

Thursday before Katrina, Catherine took me for Lasic,

which I'd been planning to do. Afterwards,

I had my little Ambien pills and eye guards,

and went right to bed at 4 p.m.

Friday I woke up at four a.m. with vision.

I was so high that I sat on my porch

looking and looking at the streetlights glowing.

The whole world was new.

By Saturday, I'm evacuating,

putting eye drops in as I drive,

feeling like a rat for abandoning Catherine.

She'd said, "It'll turn. I'll be fine."

I gave up. Left her to her fate.


In Baton Rouge, the woman next door

for some reason had cable,

and kept coming by going,

You can't believe it!

"Anything about Lakeview?" Ooooh,

she'd say. When our TV came back on,

I saw where New Orleans flooded.

I used to run along Pontchartrain

on the levee they filled with sand.

                                                So I knew.

Sunday I headed for D.C.

When I pulled in to a Subway in Roanoke,

my cell phone rang (504 numbers

hadn't worked all week). My son

Chris said: The Coastguard rescued Catherine!

I burst into tears as the server asked,

Would you like cheese?

I hadn't known I was so tense.

Nights I'd clenched my jaw

so hard a tooth cracked.

Chris's girlfriend took me in

to her beautiful house in Woodley Park.

I woke to weird dogs, barking.

Not dogs but gibbons

in the zoo set off each morning by

the sirens of Dick Cheney's motorcade

on Connecticut Avenue. Davie's computer

had a satellite program so I could find

how high the floodwaters rose.

I typed my address: 6229 Memphis.

Water level 9.9 feet.

I typed in Mike's address:

Zero point zero.

There is no God.

After a month, Lakeview residents could go back

to look and leave. Oh my god oh my

god. The whole thing was surreal.

We all used that word, "surreal."

I salvaged whatever, which was nothing,

except my dishes.

Black, splotchy mold everywhere.

Everything dead, a horrible gray

you've never seen. A smell

you can't imagine. Fuzzy, lime green

and salmon-colored mold covering

your home. Eerily beautiful, sort of

fascinating. "What's this squishy—?"

I was walking on pulpy… books.

Everywhere: books, books, books.

Oh, oh, this was my house

I bought myself.

I should have packed my mother's stuff

that she left me, her yearbook from WWII—

she was a WASP, Women's Air Service Pilot—

and Oh, I didn't think of Kate away at college,

who started writing at seven,

a life time of journals under her bed.

All pulp now. My pictures pulp.

And nowhere the feral cat I fed

that would come through my dog's,

my ex-dog's door flap,

to eat and scoot back out

and never let me touch her.

My neighbor had a cross with an arrow

sprayed on the house.

I thought, That's strange,

and then looked down:

a small mound of black fur.

The animal part of the storm—

I just can't even think about it.

Insurance adjusters are the scum of the earth.

They eat their young.

They nickled and dimed us to death.

I'd call them every day

like a part-time job. And wait.

Finally, I'd had enough.

"Just give me my check."

I had a post office box.

New Orleans was a ghost town.

No mailmen because no houses,

but Farmers sends my check to 6229 Memphis!

They did it on purpose. They were evil.

They were all evil. If I kept moving,

I was ok. I put 10,000 miles on my car.

In New York I was at a light near Gramercy Park

and a young couple asked directions.

"Don't ask me. I'm from New Orleans."

"We are too!" "How'd you do?"

That's what you'd ask. How'd you do?

"Lost everything." So did I.


I'm very lucky.

I have my own place now in the woods

(though it isn't totally mine). One night

I walked back from my neighbor's,

and came into a clearing and went [gasps].

It's an unbelievable sky in Flag.

The stars. The huge Milky Way.

I took a deep breath, and [gasps],

fell. Just about—God!

Hit a rock. Blood all over me.

When I returned to New Orleans,

I told a friend how I looked up at the night sky

and lost my balance,

and she said, Katrina Falling Syndrome.

Nancy and Kathy, Tim Stan and me: we all fell.

We weren't at the Superdome. We

didn't lose family. We

hurt ourselves because we

didn't suffer enough. I only

stayed two days it was so creepy.

No animals, no birds, no ants, no roaches,

no beetles. Or children. The children

were all gone, like Hamlen town.

I thought, I gotta get out of here.

After the divorce, I was in a rut. I mean,

New Orleans was great. I liked my job,

my house. I had a kid living nearby.

But then, I got set free.

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Notes on this piece:

The photographer and artist Rebecca Ross and I are working on a large, multimedia project entitled Voice-Prints: A Katrina Elegy, from which the interview-poems, "Richard's Story" and "Sally's Story," are excerpted. We portray the impact of a natural disaster, in this case Hurricane Katrina, by focusing on the local and the individual—interviewing and photographing a cross section of Katrina evacuees who evacuated to Arizona, and retracing the steps of their journey—to relate a compelling sense of what happened to people caught in disaster. The Katrina transplants who have let us into their lives represent a migratory microcosm that opens a window on a broader phenomenon of migration. Through interview poems and black-and-white photographs of people and their possessions, we follow twelve people's journeys from Louisiana to Phoenix in the kind of precise and intimate detail that emerges in a personal interview, making the particular story vivid. As artist-witnesses, we listen and observe, hear and see. As analytic artists, we investigate how someone survives the shock of catastrophe—of dislocation, loss of intimacy, loss of community and the ways one had of making a living. There is a striking depth of analysis that emerges as Richard Lyons, a Vietnam veteran, speaks about what happened to him, for example, or the sense that Sally Cole Mooney, a professor of English, makes of what she has been through, that reveals the courage they have shown under duress. The stories they tell of travail and resilience are not what any reporter, historian, or sociologist would recount, because they are from inside the event. As poet, I stand aside. These are interview-poems, and as such, are in the words of the interviewees and used with their permission. I have shaped and edited the original texts just as Rebecca has edited what is in front of her lens, focusing on details, distilling essence. Our larger conceptualization is to weave poems and photographs together to create portraits of lives from across the social spectrum profoundly touched by trauma and tragedy. We track evacuees as they struggle to reinvent themselves in order to make new lives. Photographs reflect present moments, and also gesture toward what evacuees have lost. The physical markings that are left of those lives lead back to contextual roots that have withered, ghosts of memory. The specifics speak to our times, and thus tell a larger story. We bear witness to one tragedy that impacts the local, but offers insight far beyond local borders, into how the human spirit falters, learns resilience, and then rallies to transcend suffering in an age characterized by forced migrations.

About the author:

Cynthia Hogue has published five collections of poetry, most recently The Incognito Body (2006). She is the co-editor of Innovative Women Poets: An Anthology of Contemporary Poetry and Interviews (2006), and of the first edition of H.D.'s The Sword Went Out to Sea (Synthesis of a Dream), by Delia Alton (2007). In 2005, she was awarded H.D. Fellowship at the Beinecke Library at Yale University, and in 2007, a MacDowell Colony Residency Fellowship. In 2008, she was awarded an Arizona Commission on the Arts Artists Project Grant for a multigenre project of interviews with Hurricane Katrina evacuees. In 2003, she joined the Department of English at Arizona State University as the Maxine and Jonathan Marshall Chair in Modern and Contemporary Poetry.

For further reading:

See the complete list of work by Cynthia Hogue at 42opus. Browse the contents of 42opus Vol. 9, No. 1, where "Sally's Story" ran on March 5, 2009. List other work with these same labels: poetry.

42opus is an online magazine of the literary arts.

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