Read a Poem
By Karen Schubert
In some New Orleans neighborhoods they had four minutes
to get to the roof where they should have stowed an axe,
really should have left. The city is 290 years old, new houses
up on stilts. My mom and I ride the Katrina Tour bus. Our driver
lived in a FEMA trailer two years and is monitored for mesothelioma.
This is my first time here. My mom was here fifty years ago
on her honeymoon–she was nineteen and her husband thirty-one.
After a number of Singapore slings, she could not lift the fork.
I don’t know what he was thinking, my father, when he plucked
this country girl from college. She was learning chemistry,
not how to jump onto a floating house with children in her arms.
In the bungalow where the bus pauses, a couple drowned in the attic.
The debris is gone. I am living in Texas, the farthest I have lived
from her. I sip my first mint julep at a bistro on Canal Street.
She does not want me to live in Texas. There are trolley car sculptures
all over New Orleans. When we spot our first, we think it is a coffin.
One man, holding two children, leaped onto a house. He set them down,
vaulted back to get his mother. She had a heart attack and died.
He picked up the last child, jumped, she slipped his arms. They never
found her. In the cemetery, the early dead were stowed to rot above ground,
bones swept out for the next family member. My daughter lives
in the Midwest. My mother left my father when I was twelve.
She took me. I left my daughter with her father because he asked me to.
On roofs, survivors beat back snakes and alligators while waiting
for helicopters to drop them onto a piece of bridge under water
on both ends. There are blue tarps all over New Orleans, bikers,
birds, jazz, wrought iron, a riot of flowers, X’s on buildings
with the number of dead. A bikini in heels beckons us from a bar
on Bourbon Street. My daughter calls. I hope to bring her here someday.
My mom and I chat up the oyster shucker. He’s the best in the city.
He shows us his awards, and the tiny stones he calls pearls.
“Brink” by Karen Schubert, from The Compost Reader
. Accents Publishing. 2020. Used by permission of the author.
Karen Schubert is the author of The Compost Reader
(Accents Publishing) and five chapbooks. Her poetry and creative nonfiction appear or are forthcoming in New World Writing, 21st Century Plague: Poems and Prose for a Pandemic;
Ohio Poetry Association Common Threads;
and Raw Data: Living in the Fallout from the Coronavirus.
Her awards include a 2021 Palm Beach Poetry Festival Thomas Lux Fellowship, Wick Poetry Center Chapbook Prize, Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award, and residencies at the Vermont Studio Center and Headlands Center for the Arts. She is Founding Director of Lit Youngstown. Find her at karenschubert.blogspot.com
and on Twitter: @karen_jedemeure
Write a Poem
Write a poem that has nothing to do with Coronavirus but uses one or more of these words: social distancing, contact tracing, mask, vaccine, second dose, herd immunity.