My scream moves through a body that has been in working order for more than thirty-four years. It is a five-foot-six-and-one-half-inch female body, around 140 pounds, and its bone structure appears larger than those of most women I see in the park or at the gym or in the market. Only one of these larger-than-average bones—a metatarsal—has broken, but this still affects the body posture and consequently, according to some, the resonance of the voice. I think, however, that the warped state of the neck and shoulders after years in front of a laptop alters the sound much more significantly. Twenty-five-and-one-half percent of this body is fat and up to sixty percent of it is water. It is not without its tonsils or its appendix and it has never been impregnated. All these facts are a part of the sound you hear when I sigh, sing, or say “hello,” or scream it.
In my youth, I’d often join my grandmother for dinner at the iconic white-tablecloth steak house she owned in the Mid-City neighborhood of New Orleans. She dominated the dining room from table 83, a four-top with the best sight lines of the entire restaurant. On the wall behind her permanent seat, over her left shoulder, hung a grand painting: a Mardi Gras tableau of a half dozen white-robed men carrying torches, leading a parade down a spectator-thronged French Quarter street.
Thick with sludgy green water and mud, the pond was a rundown neighbor to the white bungalow next door. But Pastor Jerel Keene, whose Louisiana Church congregation uses the bungalow as an office, envisioned a mission for the land the pond occupied, so he hired someone to dump red clay into the water and waited four years for it to settle like cement. He planted grass to reclaim the earth it became.
A story by Stephanie Soileau from our Fall 2016 issue.
Yesterday your old daddy was nearly a goner.
Let me tell you.
There’s an old song on one of these long-plays you sent last year for Christmas. “Poke Salad Annie, gators got your granny,” something like that. Well, old Poke Salad Annie and her no ’count daddy don’t have a thing to eat, so Annie goes out and picks her daddy a mess of greens in what they call a poke sack, which is I believe how the plant got its name—
Down a dirt lane, I park under a pine grove. I spot the old man I’m looking for standing beside the front door of a small white home, dressed in charcoal slacks, braided belt, and red suspenders over a pin-striped dress shirt, snow-white hair slicked back. He gazes with shiny, vacant eyes at the treetops, as if he has just stepped outside to smoke a cigarette, only he has no cigarettes. The last chief of the Apalachee beckons me in.
The problem wasn’t just the sinkhole and the fears about how big it might grow, but the lethal gases that the shifting earth had unleashed beneath Bayou Corne. Landry and others were now sitting atop a mound of methane, invisible and potentially explosive and trying to find a way to the surface, a way out.
At that time, I hadn’t driven this road in well over a decade, but as I wrenched the car into the left lane, I made up my mind to revisit the highway at least once per year, preferably in late summer to early fall, when the average temperature in South Louisiana falls to the mid-90s and those imposing lizards come crawling out of their swamps and jungly environs to sun themselves on the steaming pavement.