Sunday, September 11, 2005

A Homecoming

A three hour drive up to Jackson, MS brings me to the only motel room in 300 miles, and electricity and phone service. Still no power in much of the Gulf, no phones. It's all hurricane lamps, candles, and generators for the posh.

I managed to drag my mom away from her place (she's been worried about looters) for a nice air-conditioned rest in the First World. I haven't slept in three days, so I'm about to crash the fuck out, while my family cools off in the pool. It's the first time they've seen electricity since the storm hit. They hadn't even seen the images you've all been seeing on TV. My mom cried when she saw New Orleans.

So, in order, things I've photographed and written since I arrived. More later, if I can find power.

Day One:
I'm exhausted, dead-brained. Have you ever had a car that you loved, maybe your first car, and seen it totaled? When you visit it in the junkyard you recognize it, but it's massive disfigurement makes you ashamed. What's happened to my home town makes me feel like that, amplified by a million. A billion.

I'm fucking disgusting. An interloper in a nice rental car with air conditioning. An alien tourist with an expensive camera. A carpetbagger. These people, my people, have been brought so low. They were on the bottom before Katrina, but she's stomped their faces into the mud, deep and black. They're below the bottom now, if it could be believed, and it's killing me.

And my family can't even feel singled out in this massive misfortune. If one of them were to be murdered, or mugged, we could cry and blame and feel the warmth of a spotlight of wrongs. Not so here. One of thousands. Hundreds of thousands. A huge swarm of loss. A plague.

I can't think. I need to state facts alone, because context breaks my heart and I feel ashamed to have a broken heart around such poverty and devastation and loss, even if it's also mine.

A catalog of tears from today:

My mom and little brother where so excited to see us, they had made a debris sign and stood by it to make sure we didn't miss them. They've been surviving on MREs, which they call "heater meals", because of the self-heating chemical packs in them. They've been living in a mouse and shit and roach infested abandoned house with a tree on the roof, surrounded by downed power lines. They've cleaned it up as best they can, carving pride out of filth. It's still better than the shelter they were in for four days, which barely had a roof. Where my mom made sure the elderly stayed alive. Where my little brother had latrine duty, and had to clean the toilets of the shit of 400 desperate people using cardboard boxes and fucking sticks.

Breathe. Anyway. They were kind of glad to see us.

Here's a street I used to ride my bike on as a child. Apple Pie Ridge Road. That rubble you see used to be homes, from humble trailers to decent brick houses. Once, oaks and magnolia trees stretched their limbs over this road, creating a shady canopy. Now, sticks and stones, and broken bones and torn families. My mom was just relieved the National Guard had managed to dig the road out. Before, it had just been a solid field of rubble next to the bayou. It used to smell like magnolias. Now it smells like black mud and mold and death. You know what roadkill smells like? Worse than that. It's still in my clothes as I type this.

The rubble was very democratic. Children's toys lay next to dead animals next to furniture next to aluminum siding next to clothes next to cars and boats. We spoke with a fireman from the area who said they had found the top of a karate uniform of a girl his son went to school with. That girl's home was two miles away. He didn't know where the girl was, or if she was OK. Here's the opinion I'm hearing from everybody: the National Guard are doing a great job, but FEMA is nowhere to be seen, even now. Nobody knows what FEMA's doing, what it's planning to do, if anything. As far as these poor people are concerned, FEMA is make believe.

Ditto Red Cross. Nobody's seen the Red Cross, at least where we've been.

This rubble is where the brick home of my mom's friends lived. That car my mom is sitting on, under the rubble, that's the wife's car. We could see the husband's truck a few hundred yards away, overturned and half sticking out of the bayou. Alligators live in it now. My mom's friends stayed in their home to ride it out with their pets, and were rescued from the floodwaters by helicopter. They clung to trees, he naked, in the raging water, for three days. She lost her grip and floated away. She was found later, alive, miles away. My mom spent the time we were there looking for items they might care about, hiding them under rubble, so would-be looters would pass by and they could salvage some parts of their life when they return to their foundation.

Breathe. Smells bad. So, yeah, there was some damage.

And above it all the whole time we walked around, was this crescent moon, this pink sunset. The nice thing about pictures is, you can not smell the death. You can imagine the heat and magnolia and song of the cicada, and it's all quite romantic.

I'm so tired. I think big parts of me have died inside. And I haven't even seen my mom's place yet. I want to fast forward to another happy time. I want to fall into a deep sleep and not wake up for a long time.

Buy my prints here, and help my family. Thank you.

1 comment:

clayton cubitt said...

Siege, you look so much like your mother... thanks for sharing these, too.

If there's beauty to be found amongst tragedy (and it's one of life's quirks that this is often the case) your photo of her atop the wreckage and car is a prime example. It's a great shot.

posted by: infidelblues on 9/12/2005 11:19:45 PM


awPaw always told me that the worst thing about WWII was the smell.He said is was the one thing that a picture could't capture.The screaming you could imagine, but the smell was worse than anything.

posted by: dirtwood on 9/12/2005 10:45:21 PM


You're awesome. Anything's appreciated, of course. There's a temporary web page that you can Paypal donate here:

But if you're tight, don't sweat it, your thoughts and concern are needed too.

I may be off the grid for a few more days now, back into the Gulf in the morning...

posted by: Siege on 9/11/2005 11:29:16 PM


Dammit this makes me cry and scream. I'm copying a couple of these to show my students and I can't afford a print but I can afford $10.00 so do you take paypal or is there another place to just send money???

posted by: bthree on 9/11/2005 10:58:51 PM


it's good to see this update, man. . .

posted by: drsoma765a on 9/11/2005 7:41:50 PM