Washed Away

There is a bathtub in somebody’s yard in the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans. It is upside down, and a barge tossed by Hurricane Katrina through the Industrial Canal floodwall rests lightly, even gently, upon it. Whose bathtub it is, whether they bathed children in it or the family dog, and whether its owners are alive or drowned and deadall are a mystery. I pick my way through the debris that once was a home: shattered lumber, a matted wig, tangled Mardi Gras beads, a moldering teddy bear lodged in a tree, a baby’s shoe half buried in mud. From a distance, the barge is dwarfed by the moonscape behind it, but up close it blots out the sky, a giant, rusted thing. Tapping the side with my fingernail, I wonder how it will be removed. It is certainly not going back the way it came; slow progress has partially, temporarily sealed the breach. Perhaps they will cut it into pieces and carry them away. Maybe they will be sold as souvenirs.

It is February in the Lower Ninth Ward. More than five months have passed since Hurricane Katrina. It is a new year, and still there is nothing and nobody for mile after mile. You feel it most keenly at night, in the endless, clinging darkness, where men should be sitting on front porches drinking beer, kids should be putting their bicycles up, and somebody’s mama should be wiping another day off her child with soap and a washrag and no thought of water thundering through the windows and up the stairs to float her bathtub, her home and her life away.

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