Finger Painting in Latter Days
August 2005, Katrina plummets
Mississippi; buries manmade
beaches under tumbling floods.
In New Orleans’ 9th ward, some
still wade loss, fissured faith, cracks
in lips, skin, left from the boiling
heat of one summer’s winter. But,
joining another year’s relief team,
grandmother folds her tithe
in a crisp envelope, still believing
in her widow’s mite.
August 2012, Isaac hits Haiti;
people, belongings, flounder and
course down streets. After weeks,
mother still weeps for baby,
swallowed in a current; for father,
trying to get “our baby” back.
But, months later, she’s among
children, women, men, a neighbor
fishes off muddy streets and
welcomes at a table of rice,
beans—meat, ancient as pain,
vital as comfort.
August 2017, Harvey whirls through
Texas, hefts Beaumont into the sea.
Harris County teachers lose four
young students swept into a bayou.
Toxic spills flood floods.
Headlines read: Houston fights
mosquitoes over pools of stagnant
water; fire-fighters strike from home.
But, of kindness amid wreckage,
an historian turned poet writes:
“healing waters run deeper here.”
September 2017, Maria plows
a demolition path towards Puerto Rico.
In her wake, the port of riches cries
for food, drinking water, medicines
contained in scorching ports,
just a truck-drive, an airlift away
while officials plan plans and waiver.
Weeks after Irma’s slap, the Virgin
Islands still insist, “remember us.”
And Barbuda remains silent. But,
in St. Martin, a teacher tells tv news
about a saving grace in colors of earth,
sky; her story pivoting epiphany.
She collects children from their play
in ruin’s hush near broken cathedral
steps, stirring puddles under rainbows
arcing wastes. They will use brazen
hues of yellow ochre, green, orange,
red, blue—colors so loud God sways
to the splash, splatter, and smoothing
stroke springing up fallen homes,
schools, the church. One, whose canvas
is a resurrected tent for storing school
supplies, echoes a zephyr of voice,
so familiar it pangs, “Miss, I paint
mango leaves.” He lets her see, proud
of what his fingers have made: a leaf
purpling to fine wine; some green
around a brown-line tree. Her heart
takes in his passionfruit and melon
giraffe, head held high in low silver
spears of stratus, hooves on a coconut
curve of earth—images conjuring
her son another storm stole years earlier
and forever. “My son liked animals,”
she tells her young muse.
Beginning her story’s end, she thinks
of her child up there where the artist
has painted an apricot sun on blue
heaven skies. Her muse is the last
of the children she’ll take back
to the tents they call home. Late
afternoon, she's steering the boy
away from his canvas, away from her.
“We will tell ta maman of your good
work,” she says, cradling his painted
fingers, so at least for the length
of their trek, she adds with thanks,
her hand “was not empty.”
Stronger, August 2017
(for Heather Heyer)
might have been her mantra that day.
and a year of days,
it certainly was her mother’s;
identifying her body,
picking up her last pay,
checking on her sick Chihuahua,
bidding “my child,
down by a driver furrowing
to irrigate tares that angels
of our better natures,
them from wheat, will one day
gather for burning.
listening above political parlance,
to hear Heather’s
story, take up the mantra now.
Her fall for standing
against what makes
the word “evil,” flesh, sows a seed,
so love grows stronger
in the hearts
of pink hats, purple shields, poised
some raised in monuments of concrete
and bronze; poised against
a hydra of hate,
whose spew from many heads, many
heads, gets drowned
humming “Amazing Grace” because,
on Heather’s day, America,
rising to her finest
claimed, I am more than my troubled
history. On tonight’s
someone says Heather’s legacy
was born August 12th,
Centuries of slain say much earlier
in every defender
who has been and is to come,
who has been
and will be outraged,
who has paid and will pay attention.
Those who centuries
of "strange fruit"—and
every creed, age, color of martyr—say
are the ones who have known
and will know
what Heather knew; the ones who
have and will bet
on their very precious
lives, that truth reigns and will remain
the moral arc,
often hidden, but
ever bending toward the right and just.
Olga Dugan is a Cave Canem poet. Her award-winning poems appear or are forthcoming in The Peacock Journal, Typehouse Literary Magazine, Kweli, The Southern Quarterly, The Red Moon Anthology of English-Language Haiku, Cave Canem Anthology: XIII, Pirene’s Fountain, Tipton Poetry Journal, and Scribble. Holding a Ph.D. in Literary History from the University of Rochester, Olga is a Lindback Professor of English at Community College of Philadelphia.