Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Tuesday (?) Poetry Blogging: Hurricane Katrina Edition

Local writer/playwright/slam poet Michael Shaeffer whipped up a poem in response to recent events. I think you'll enjoy it so I'm passing it along with an announcement that the Minnesota Poetry Slam Team is hosting a slam to benefit Hurricane Katrina victims. Tuesday, 9/13, 8:00 PM, Kieran's Irish Pub. Michael will most likely be there to share "The Levee and the Heavy" in person.

The Levee and the Heavy
by Michael Shaeffer
Sunday, 04 September 2005

If I survive the wind and the rain
When the levee breaks from Lake Pontchartrain
Then “Thank you, Katrina,” will be my refrain

Such was the promise Big Leon made
as he was wading waist-deep in the Big Muddy
Canal Street had become
a canal
raw sewage and corpses floating past
and Big Leon was certain he had seen his last
when he came face to face
with a category five storm

If I survive this wind and rain
When that levee breaks down at Lake Pontchartrain
Then “Thank you, Katrina,” will be my refrain

Leon moved to the Big Easy back in ‘83
and opened a small shop on Roubideaux Street
He sold shrunken heads, love potions, and dried-up chicken feet
to tourists, college kids, and random suckers
Over 22 years of customers—conned, cursed at, or made to wait
and the first thing Leon thought when he
heard the word “evacuate” was
relocating was gonna be rough
How was he going to pack up his worldly possessions—
all of his stuff?
His terrarium, his laptop, his bootlegs, his collection of DVD porn,
his stereo system, his turntables, all his worn-out records
Yeah, in 22 years of hustling, Big Leon had accumulated quite the stash,
but he let it all go when he found himself
smack dab in the middle of a hurricane’s path
and now this big, bad voodoo daddy
has lost everything he ever had. He
now calls the cheap seats in the Houston Astrodome “Home”
His fellow tenants call him “a crazy bastard”
because he walks around mumbling,
“Thank you, Katrina.”
His new neighbors find this unsettling and odd
They don’t know if he’s being morbid or sarcastic
or if he’s found God
or if he’s just shell shocked, traumatized and maudlin
from having his slate wiped clean
So what does he mean?
Hey, they say “life’s a bitch,”
But Big Leon found himself leaning into the pitch
of that Special K curve ball Mother Nature threw at him
at 165 miles per hour

Nah, Big Leon finds power in his words
absurd as his thank yous sound to
the crowd of homeless around him...

There’s a Red Cross volunteer from Chicago
who pauses when she passes this 300-pound stranger
muttering gravel-scratches of appreciation beneath his bourbon-soaked breath

I survived the wind and the rain
When that levee broke at Lake Pontchartrain
“Thank you, Katrina,” is my refrain

And she gets it.
See, she’s never met Big Leon before
She can’t possibly know how much he’s lost
or what the cost will be for him to start over
but she knows that this man—
this mumbling giant shuffling past her over the patches of Astroturf—
at this moment,
he’s just thankful
to be alive
even though his only visible possessions are a second-hand blanket
and a bottle o’ bourbon,
beyond that, all he has is his positive attitude,
and I hope that you’d do the very same thing.
She is reaching out.
She’ll be one of Leon’s new friends,
Because this is not the way the world ends.

is a start.