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In minute-by-minute detail, Patricia Smith tracks Hurricane Katrina as it transforms into a full-blown mistress of destruction. From August 23, 2005, the day Tropical Depression Twelve developed, through August 28 when it became a Category Five storm with its “scarlet glare fixed on the trembling crescent,” to the heartbreaking aftermath, these poems evoke the horror that unfolded in New Orleans as America watched it on television.
Assuming the voices of flailing politicians, the dying, their survivors, and the voice of the hurricane itself, Smith follows the woefully inadequate relief effort and stands witness to families held captive on rooftops and in the Superdome. She gives voice to the thirty-four nursing home residents who drowned in St. Bernard Parish and recalls the day after their deaths when George W. Bush accompanied country singer Mark Willis on guitar:
The cowboy grins through the terrible din,
And in the Ninth, a choking woman wails
Look like this country done left us for dead.
An unforgettable reminder that poetry can still be “news that stays news,” Blood Dazzler is a necessary step toward national healing.
Patricia Smith is the author of four previous collections of poetry, including Teahouse of the Almighty, winner of the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award and the Paterson Poetry Prize. A record-setting, national poetry slam champion, she was featured in the film Slamnation, on the HBO series Def Poetry Jam, and is a frequent contributor to Harriet, the Poetry Foundation’s blog. Visit her website at www.wordwoman.ws.
rats ride. This is home. This is home as funk, churning moss dripping from its arms, arms open wide to take in my damp body. Everything crawls. The drooped ceiling crawls toward the floor, the light hard-crawls through soft splintered slats. And I crawl through upturned rooms, humming gospel, closing tired eyes against my home’s languid rhythms of rot, begging my new history to hold still. REMEMBERING TO SING torch spices till the smoke bites your walls string glass beads
capable of. COLOPHON Blood Dazzler was designed at Coffee House Press, in the historic warehouse district of downtown Minneapolis. Fonts include Caslon and Scala Sans. FUNDER ACKNOWLEDGMENTS Coffee House Press is an independent nonprofit literary publisher. Our books are made possible through the generous support of grants and gifts from many foundations, corporate giving programs, state and federal support, and through donations from individuals who believe in the transformational
booms, and the mirror can’t take it. Eventually, a shard escapes. Something bleeds. WON’T BE BUT A MINUTE Tie Luther B to that cypress. He gon’ be all right. That dog done been rained on before, he done been here a day or two by hisself before, and we sho’ can’t take him. Just leave him some of that Alpo and plenty of water. Bowls and bowls of water. We gon’ be back home soon this thing pass over. Luther B gon’ watch the place while we gone. You heard the man—he said Go—and you
some good livin’ at the end of this, maybe a pork chop with some religion still hangin’ from it, or a skillet scrape of m’dear’s fat oxtails and onion rice. Bet there’s daybreaks stackin’ up behind those clouds, regular, with quiet moons behind, all rowed up, ready. The day’s pewter howling wounds a rib, darkens Luther B’s itching with blood. Paddling in frantic blue circle, he fights his slippery chain, treads toward a little bit more of remember— Damn dog ain’t nuthin’ but trouble.
he leaning on just one organ key. You tole me Wait, mama, they almost here. And they came quiet, roundabout and back door like breeze, then they said Ethel Mayo Freeman just as clear and plain. You didn’t see them, boy, you ain’t seen me walk away with one of them on each arm like a li’l ol’ sassy gal? Don’t tell me you missed mama on her ol’ legs dancing with them pretty mens in the mud? THANKFUL “What I’m hearing is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by