Glossary for the State of Louisiana
Alluvial & drifting is how this language begins:
______alligators floating their dark
Braille across some no-name
______bayou. Where layers lilt as they lower,
Crawdads with the long-dead in their mouths. Where all
______colors slow their spectrum to brackish brown.
Desire Street is where we lived back then,
______dumb & new, married less than a year,
Elephant Ears taking over the backyard, their radars turned
______eastward, listening for rain. We knew one
Flood might erase us. We were always
______fucking in a big hurry back then, knowing that
Gulf of Mexico could be churning the next
______great big disaster.
Hope or hopelessness? On the street,
______houses fell like cakes, doomed by dampness &
Imperfections in measurement. The walls
______itched with insulation, while the floor went without,
January numbing our feet. Beneath the boards, you could hear
______joists humming when the wind passed through.
Keeping time, our neighbors painted blue arrows, pointing to
______Katrina’s waterlines: Here. When
Levees broke. I was staying over on St. Claude. You?
______Lost in middle America, I said, while that single eye
Moved across the TV screen: the swirling
______model, the terror of that organized
Neon. But by the time it touched me—in Ohio, then—
______nothing much remained. Light rain. A picnic cancelled.
Outrageous, it seems now, to have been so inland. So little knowledge of
______Orleans, Jefferson, St. Bernard, St. Tammany,
Plaquamines, Terrebonne, Lafourche, Ascension:
______parishes under water. & now,
Questions to big too answer. How did the world become this
______quagmire (after the water retreated),
Rough outlines where the living had been?
______Recklessness in the architecture, in retaining walls,
Substructural planks, the pumps and underpasses, holes
______sinking the city streets (this, a natural quality of
Terrain, not just the fault of
______town or city or state or the country’s
Unqualified officials), but also the lack of consideration for
______undulating banks, for water made
Viscous by silt, for sure embayment & hundreds of new
______veins created over time, which eventually
Weathers down the deposits, the barriers always
______waxing then waning. Now, there is nothing
Xenial about this union: always loss between the river &
______xanthochromic sands. Yes, this is the language for how
Yellow Cotton Bay disappeared, banks sunk faster than the last
______year in Venice. Every day, a new word drawn: blue
Zigzag unraveling the coastline, one more
______zone of paradise erased.
FINAL NOTE ON THE STATE OF ILLINOIS
Not just the south of it, borders slicked
_______by rivers and petroleum, trying to breathe
ethanol instead of standard air,
_______but also the north, clanging
its jankety machinery,
_______last stop on the Rust Belt Express.
Prone to extremes, the lake’s
_______methylene-blue was the only color
in the city that summer: the days bleached
_______to mindlessness, every surface
like a third-degree burn.
_______Couldn’t turn on the stove. The apartment
a brick oven. We went to movies
_______to sit in air conditioning: Ice Age 4, Hysteria.
In Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,
_______we learn the heartland suffers
in a secret apocalypse. Abe grinds his ax,
_______wears a tall hat, carries loads
of garlic. For the finale, they reenact
_______the Civil War in the dark.
It was ten o’clock when we finally stepped
_______outside the theater’s pocket,
the air still ninety-something
_______degrees. Night’s body
sweating against us. The neon signs blurred,
_______heat angels shimmering up
in hallucinogenic waves.
_______& suddenly we seemed to know nothing
but the evaporating world,
_______not one of us fit
to last. Even a city
_______that burned & rose once
won’t get a second chance.
_______It was too hot for hand-holding
but I took yours anyway
_______as we languished back
towards the apartment: no wind,
_______not even on the harbor, where
we leaned innately towards the water
_______as if a magnetic north
was still intact.
_______How easy it was to fantasize
the lake as a kind a pause—
_______comma breathed into
the country, a respite from disaster—
_______and not the Bellwether of
the Interior, a whole globe tipped
_______on its glacial edge. Land &
water: a seamless opaque. At the beach’s
_______end, a small lighthouse
with no light inside its glass.