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  • On my first trip back five weeks after Katrina, I found New Orleans unspeakably lonely. The devastation wrought by the levee breaks went on and on, block after block at the lakefront (where I grew up), Mid-City (where Mom had lived) the Lower Ninth Ward and St. Bernard Parish—areas once shimmering with funky life, now lifeless and forlorn.

    Everywhere dump trucks trolled—FEMA paid by the load. Men with masks directed traffic, sometimes in Hazmat gear. I passed huge dumping areas piling ever higher, flooded cars, blocks and blocks boarded up. I negotiated one surprise detour after another. Refrigerators taped shut against their stench littered the sidewalks. All the grass and many trees were dead—drowned. Everywhere I looked for the high water line still visible on homes—dubbed the bathtub ring—sometimes feet from the ground, sometimes over my head.

    Grey dust covered everything. It was like being in an old sepia photograph, but with blue sky. In Audubon Park and on St. Charles Avenue there was too much sky: huge holes where live oaks once stood.

    Seville Drive where I grew up near the Lake Pontchartrain and Bayou St. John saw nine feet. Our one-time home’s foundation had cracked and its brick façade was tumbling down. The pine trees Paw-Paw had planted were cut and piled amidst the last owner’s detritus. The house has since been demolished.

    Birds, too, were gone, blown who knows where. In “Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans” Louis Armstrong laments “the tall sugar pines /Where mockin’ birds used to sing.” Who knew it could mean this?
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