Msl. Katrina's Tableau
The levy breaking stands somewhere between a good song title and bad
These 5 images are defining moments; imprints that both magnify and
distort my soul.
I feel that my time of mourning is close to an end. Six months of
sadness that conveniently end with Mardi Gras and then perhaps 3 months
of rebuilding a self and a life. Nine months to be reborn.
Mishlen is watching the television as I walk into our room. I was at
Soma Coffeehouse trying to figure out when I should leave Bloomington
to get back to work in New Orleans. We evacuated to our camp here and I
expected to be back home in 2 or 3 days. I didn't want to take
too many days off. They gave me an award for coming in two weeks
straight. I was taking off so many days it was getting embarrassing.
I walk over to the television and glance at the screen.
"Its amazing how real computer graphics have become."
Mishlen looks up at me and says,
"It is real. The levy broke."
I try to say something but my mouth catches like a broken record,
I have driven this way thousands of times; now I can't find our street.
I go by our house twice before I recognize it. The land and all that
sits on it is broken. Katrina has birthed a new geological stratum of
trash and broken dreams. Old mental templates can be more
confusing than helpful when navigating this newly born
I stop, get out of the car and stand in the bright moonlight. Not one
electric light. The street is still and peaceful and devastated.
I look out over Lake Pontchartrain. The camps are gone and the bridges
are cut and empty.
The full moon lays down a golden path on Pontchartrain. Total quiet.
Even the insects have vanished. I stand juggling enchantment and
The sun comes up and with its light I move from sleep to wakefulness
and to a vision even odder than those that inhabit my dreams. I am
absolutely alone in what appears to be a bad caricature of where I used
Eyes half closed, I began the Death Meditation of my Morning Practice.
"I will die. I will surely die. I have seen the grave of my Mother. I
have seen the grave of my Father. I will die.….I open my eyes
The enchantment and horror embrace in my laughter.
FEMA walks over to my house. The embattled agency looks like two white
men who are speaking with California accents.
"Why in the Hell didn't this happen to California?", I think,
"California was supposed to break and fall into the ocean."
But I say, "Thanks for the blue roof."
Their reply is, "You sure are lucky. This is the only house standing.
It cost the taxpayers to put that roof on."
"Fuck you" I think as "Humh" escapes from my disciplined mouth.
They appear officious; shuffling some papers and then one says," Damn,
look at this."
They both look down and see a sword sticking out of the ground, a
crystal wand, and a sea shell in what was our rear yard.
One man holds the sword up and looks at me.
I look at him and say as dead pan as possible, " I didn't put it there.
I just got here last night. This is the first time I've been to the
rear of the house."
He put the sword back into the earth and carefully wiped his hand on
his pants. His eyes searched his hand for any lingering bits of god
He had the most marvelous look on his face. It appeared to be something
between spiritual revelation and acute indigestion. In fact, he looked
like he just heard that California broke and fell off into the ocean.
Sun Dance; Bloomington….a couple of weeks before Katrina.
I had just given three pieces of flesh and the blood was running down
my left arm.
I am proud of myself. I look at my arm and I realize that I want people
to see it. I rejoice in the innocence of wanting to impress other
But…all right, fine. I know how this kind of thing plays out. Pride
becomes too big and dilutes the offering. I roll my sleeve down as I
walk out of the long shelter built and torn down every year for the
dance. I note with some pride that the blood is soaking through my
As I walk out, an Indian ( I don't know his tribe) elder came running
over and hailed me.
I think, "Oh damn, what did I do now."
He thinks I am a comedian with a beret he saw on TV. He says he saw me
hiding the wound and wants to compliment me. Bragging is very bad taste
in holy places.
"Do you know what the difference is between an old man and an elder?"
He looks me in the eye. "An elder takes what he needs, an old man takes
anything he can get his hands on."
It sounded prophetic. I have some years on me and I know he was talking
to me. I listen and remember even if it makes no sense. I have a job
and a house and all that. People don't offer me things. I don't need
things, I got a house full of them.
A man came up and offered us tobacco. The elder very carefully took a
small, exact amount. Not too much and not too little. I follow
A month later people will be offering me things. I took the teaching to
heart and benefited from it accordingly. I remember being given three
paper clips; I looked at them intently and carefully took one, because
that is what I needed.