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ST. BERNARD PARISH, La., Sept. 7 (UPI) – Thirty-four bodies were found drowned in a nursing home where people did not evacuate. The more than half of the residents of St. Rita’s nursing home, 20 miles southeast from downtown New Orleans, died Aug. 29 when floodwaters from Hurricane Katrina reached the home’s roof.

1.

I believe Jesus is hugely who He says he is:
The crook of an arm,
a shadow threatening my hair.
a hellish glare beneath the moonwash,
the slapping storm that wakes me,
the washing clean.

2.

The Reaper has touched his lips to my days,
blessing me with gray fragrance and awkward new skin.
What makes the dust of me smell like a dashed miracle,
the underside of everything?
What requires me to hear the bones?

3.

Before the rain stung like silver, I had forgotten me.
My name was a rude visitor, arriving
unannounced, without a gift,
always leaving too soon.

4.

If you knew my alley, its stink and blue,
if you knew dirt-gritted collard greens
that are salt-pork slick and doused with Tabasco,
then you knew me.
I know that you’ve come
with my engine, and the rest of my skin.
You will rise me.

5.

Son don’t rise,
daughter don’t know enough to dial a phone.
Gets harder to remember
how my womb folded because of them,
how all of me lumbered with their foolish weight.
See what they have done,
how hard and sweet they done dropped me here?

6.

Clumps of earth in the rising and me
too weathered to birth a howl.
I sleep in small shatters. I climb
the bitten left wall of my heart.
In all the places I fall,
it is dry.

7.

We knew we had been bred for sacrifice,
our overflow of yesterdays too wretched a nudge,
our tired hearts borderless
and already mapped for the Motherland.
We reach for the past like it is food and we are starving.
They scour our surfaces,
prepare us,
wrap us in white.

8.

When help comes,
it will be young men smelling like cigarettes and Chevys,
muscled boys with autumn breath and steel baskets
just the right size for our souls.
To save us, they will rub our gums with hard bread.
They will offer us

water.

9.

To cool fever, rub the sickness with wet earth.
For swelling, boil a just plucked chicken
and douse the hurt in the steam.
Always from the position of the knees,
create the savior you need.
Then
wait.

Wait.

Jesus…both faith and magic have failed.

10.

There is no light, no thin food moving through my arms.
Even without machines, I feel my numbers have soared.
I am a sudden second of soft leaving.
I’m cold
and I’m strapped to this country.

11.

Daughter, son, I am bursting with this.
I am straining to celebrate the links of blood.
I am wide aloud craving something shaped like you.

12.

There are no bridges.

13.

We are stunned on our scabbed backs.
There is the sound of whispered splashing,
and then this:

Leave them.

14.

Our father…

15.

The walls are slithering with Bayou spit,
tears,
the badness that muddies rivers.
We flail in that sin,
alive and bended beneath a wretched Southern rain.
We sip our breath from that filthy ocean.
Only some things float.

16.

I ain’t scared of no wet, no wave. I done seen more than this.
God is in all houses.
Just balance the huge noun of Him on your tongue.

17.

Wait with me.
Watch me sleep in this room
that looks so much like night.
I’m gon’ wake up, I swear it,
to some kind of sun.

18.

Which art in heaven…

19.

My name Earline
and I’m gon’ say you my life–
sugar in my veins, a single cloudy eye,
and blood when I pee.
Half dead, I used to say,
I used to tell ‘em Hell, I’m already half dead.

20.

I have forgotten how to pray,
cannot find my knees.

I want the man with my needles.
I want that sting,
those silver holes in my body, I want
my needles,
I want my sleep for days,
I wanna cheat the Reaper.

I want somebody’s hand.

21.

Hallowed be thy name

22.

Hollow be our names.
Call us running boards, the ice man,
big band, hogshead, possum in stewing pots.
Twist our heads on our snapping necks
back to where we danced from.
Call us names that are barely necessary.
Call us those
who do not need these days.

23.

Big Easy.
I ran your green,
rolled in your red dust,
and your sun turned the white of me red
and the black of me blue.
Funny how colored I got,
how I absorbed your heat, and how you,
without flinching,
called me your child.

24.

God, we need your glitter, you know,
those wacky miracles
you do
for no reason at all?

25.

I fight the rise with all the guitar left in my throat.
Old folks got shit to say,
ain’t got but a little time to say it.
We don’t never die quiet.

26.

A sudden ocean of everyone’s shoulders.

27.

And this scripture: Leave them.

28.

And I am left, no deity hovering,
no black hair on my head,
all of me thinner than when I began.

Fingers of ice climb me,
reach my dimming light,
and choke my only angel.

29.

I had the rumble hips, I tell ya.
I was slingback and press curl
and big titties with necessary milk.
I was somebody’s woman,
I was the city where the city wasn’t.
Louisiana,
goddamn.
You lied to me so lush.

30.

I lost my seeing in that war.
But I ain’t gonna need these old eyes for that resurrection.

That’s gon’ be one hell of a line.

I’ll be the one slightly off center.
I’ll be the one facing the wrong way.

31.

They left us. Me. Him. Our crinkled hands.
They left our hard histories, our gone children and storytells.
They left the porch creaking.
They left us to our God,
but our God was mesmerized elsewhere,
watching his rain.

32.

Thy will be done.

33.

No more of us,
stunned and silent on the skin of this sea,
this thunderous wet.
We bob and bounce and spin slow,
draped in an odd sparkle.

34.

The underearth turns its face to us.

leave

them

Patricia Smith, a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus (www.fpif.org), is the author of four books of poetry, including Teahouse of the Almighty, a 2005 National Poetry Series selection, winner of the 2007 Hurston-Wright Legacy Award and the 2007 Paterson Poetry Prize. Blood Dazzler, a book of poems chronicling the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, will be published by Coffee House Press in 2008. Her work has appeared in Poetry, The Paris Review, TriQuarterly and many other journals. She is a Pushcart Prize winner, a Cave Canem faculty member and a four-time individual champion of the National Poetry Slam.