Posted by: josephsiry | January 22, 2008

I went to New Orleans to see what I could do

In the Mississippi delta the recovery is not yet underway, do not let people fool you –it is a desperate situation there for the folks who live after the deluge. We went because I had to do something, to take some personal responsibility for the fact that our nation turns its back on these people and their capacity to live with sorrow among the rubble of lost dreams scattered along vast highways of despair. These are the families of the forgotten classes because they are not even recognized as members of an underclass.

I dreaded going back to New Orleans, I feared the emotions that flooded over my soul the first time I saw the Ninth Ward six months after the deluge. Then too, I dreaded the odor I had consumed last year this time when we gutted houses. It was a fragrance of shame. Shame that I was going through the personal effects of those missing in the deluge. There was the despair I felt at picking up a young boy’s soiled jacket caked with the mud of carelessness, That is the carelessness of politicians and Army engineers who could not ensure the safety of these people due to the poor design and quality of the flood walls and storm surge barriers that these people had constructed.

Because the extent of the disaster was so large we were unable to build houses and re-establish homesteads. The dread sustained the fear and this fear grew to nourish the dread;Møbius strip of reinforcement, because there is no other side of this story–there only appears to be two sides to the same calamity. Here the levees failed and with their breech came the choice to rise to this challenge and re-invent a city and its neighborhoods. That is a story that folds back upon itself in an endless repetition of loss and real suffering. Connected here are twin themes in the same story of loss and recovery because they are part of the same inside that turns into an outside and as it does we lose our sense of proportion, then eviscerating our sense of dignity for the civic life that once sustained these neighbors and harbored their hopes for their children’s and all children’s future.

This place is one endless monotony of empty, abandoned, or still damaged homes that stand as cenotaphs of our capacity to ignore the obvious, burden the victims and put obstacles in the way of those who seek to improve the conditions of those who need and desire to re-inhabit this, now hallowed ground. The lower Mississippi delta has been sanctified with deaths and reinvigorated lives of these –once fortunate residents– for whom luck also evacuated when the swift advance of the great gulf storm of August 29, 2005 forever altered this watery deposition at the edge of a warm inland sea.



  1. Love your research and interesting ideas on responsibility which are right on. Just wanted to let you know that I also was on your website and was looking at Mary Austin’s home. I must correct you as I am from Lone Pine, CA and have relatives in Independence, CA and Mary Austin’s home is in Independence, not Lone Pine…just 15 more miles up the highway.

    • Sorry I have not responded, we love Bishop, Lone Pine and the entire area of the Owen’s Valley. Do you still return to see the places there?

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