An installment in our weekly series, The By and By.
When Cash Money was started several years before by the brothers Baby and Slim Williams, Kilo G had been its flagship artist. He was only fourteen when he met Baby and Slim, too young to sign a contract; they’d had to take a ferry across the river to find his grandmother, so she could sign in his place. Before Mannie Fresh, before Lil Wayne—before the fleet of Bentleys and yellow Hummers that roamed the streets of New Orleans like an occupying army—there had been Kilo G.
On the morning of August 28, 2005, I evacuated New Orleans with my parents, less than twenty-four hours before Katrina came ashore, driving fourteen-foot storm tides ahead of it. We spent hours on the five-mile bridge over Lake Pontchartrain, watching Lawrence of Arabia in the back seat while waterspouts spun beyond our windows. When I woke up the next morning in Nashville, a newscaster in a dry poncho was standing near the Superdome; she talked only of wind damage.
A Southern Journey from the Summer 2017 issue.
I was feeling alright. The highway was working its gritty, illusory magic. This is all yours, I thought: freedom, control, motion. I was also feeling the salve of a change of scenery: broken-up sidewalks for marsh grass, cramped narrow shotguns for fishing camps. Tangles of electrical and phone wires for the wide-open Gulf-reaching sky. But it didn’t take long, maybe a half hour in, before I was again ambushed by G’s death.
New Orleans is known as the impossible and inevitable city, due to its complex geography that tests the boundaries of human engineering. In her latest project, Virginia Hanusik examines “how a distinct sense of place is perpetuated through the built environment,” in a city whose uniqueness and aesthetic beauty is tied to the uncertainty of rising waters outside of the levee walls.
Photographs from This Land: An American Portrait.
Jack Spencer spent thirteen years working on the project and traveled more than eighty thousand miles across all forty-eight contiguous states looking for scenes and moments that he says are “an expression of the perception of an ideal.”
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.