The text from my little brother came around six in the morning: we would meet for lunch at the Rib Room and then spend the rest of the day “filling our lungs with memories.” It was Tuesday, April 21, 2015, and a citywide smoking ban in bars was going into effect at midnight.
There’s a strong breeze from the South and petals are flying off flowering trees. We can smell the briny Gulf of Mexico. Dozens of new seedlings have been planted and braced so they can set roots. Audubon Park used to get the attention, but City Park’s spruced up and all promise. Covering thirteen hundred acres in Mid City, this has become everyone’s park.
I would like to tell the story of New Orleans. I would like to do so in simple, declarative sentences. I would like my narrative to be neat and linear, like I learned in school and on television. Do not think me unequal to the task.
For some of my students, the questions Where are you from? and Do you listen to Lil Wayne? were close to interchangeable. Their shared currency—as much as neighborhoods or food or slang or trauma—was the stoned musings of Weezy F. Baby.
The Country Club is a pale yellow, classic nineteenth-century Creole mansion with a grand front porch. Inside are fifteen-foot ceilings, polished hardwood floors, and palms in pots. People dine in the house’s rooms, and there’s a bar in the back near the pool where Anne, on her way to the bathroom, saw a naked woman ordering a drink.
It was dark all the time, and so it was dark when the ship’s captain crept into the corner where his young daughter was asleep. It was dark when he carried her out onto the deck and raised her up in the moonlight to better see him claim.
The August night tells me that I’m home once again, down from New York City, where I’ve lived since 1987, a long barreling Interstate drive away. In the garage, the Subaru’s cooling engine ticks and clatters. All around me as I stretch and unbend, the darkness of a Chapel Hill neighborhood resounds, a vast, pulsing rave of cicadas, crickets, and frogs, with the occasional hoot of an owl thrown in to terrify the small mammals.
The sun’s shining through the windows in Georgia. A poet climbs into her attic and takes down a box of old photos, opens it, and tilts the images into the light. A page from an old notebook peeks out of the stack. Jimmy Rabbitt’s “Wheels’ Rollin’” starts skipping on the record player.
In The Florida Heartland, Brian McSwain captures the backroads of a six-county region in south-central Florida, focusing on scenes and objects that are broken or abandoned: a deserted juice stand; a fractured statue; a tilted, net-less basketball goal.