After Katrina

After Katrina


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



I will never see Turkey for myself, except through the eyes and experiences

of others. Travel literature, fiction, and stories of other worlds beyond

my self-limited circle is important for me to live my life out more fully



 After Katrina 

Chapter I  (Neighbors and Invaders) Chapter 2 ( Earthquakes and Baklava)  Chapter 3   (The Lens in Plato’s Eye)  Malcolm’s Landing

By Mackie Blanton

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An Introduction

By Rudolph Lewis


The more I live, the more I seem to live through others. These others have been a bridge by which I have gotten to know myself and a means by which I have been able to create myself, that is, come to know that person I darkly want to be. I was telling my friend Sharif today as we ate the corn beef sandwiches he brought over for lunch, I am a kind of empath. Or to improvise an Armenian  expression I feel the pain of others. In that appropriation I get to know my own pain, the life that is within me, in the Other.

This kind of reflective writing style that unfolds here under my fingers is what has occurred after a reading of Mackie Blanton’s travelogue, “After Katrina.” Maybe that is not the right word. In another place I have called  it a report. Maybe Mackie will choose some more revealing term when he has completed his manuscript of his life of teaching and learning in Turkey. There he is a visiting professor. We corresponded just before he left for Izmir, Turkey, where he is a Fulbright Senior Lecturer. I asked if he might sent us reports of his stay in Turkey. I have a fear of flying and it has been more than twenty years since I have been on a plane.

For the last four years, I have received travel reports from Kalamu ya Salaam , who flies all over the country with the same ease as I stroll up to North and Pennsylvania. Seemingly, Kalamu does not give a second thought to being five miles above the earth and it seems to be the same to millions daily. Such flight for me is the heaviest of decisions, which would cause me to scurry to my knees to talk with God. I have been on a plane four times: to New York and back; to Zaire and back; to Louisiana and back, to San Francisco and back to New Orleans. I find myself blessed that my feet touched the ground in those flighty jaunts. I have sworn I’d never get on another plane.

So you see, I will never see Turkey for myself, except through the eyes and experiences of others. Travel literature, fiction, and stories of other worlds beyond my self-limited circle is important for me to live my life out more fully, to take in those worlds beyond the continental United States. I have exchanged emails with Mackie in the last six months, probably the most intense period of my life. I watched the destruction of our beloved city of New Orleans, the anguish and suffering of its most vulnerable citizens. And like many, I have not gotten over that tragedy. It has not led me to utter despair as many of those who have committed suicide of one sort or another.

This national tragedy has rather pushed me harder to do what I can do, today. For in these times of our cowboy national government we expect there are other disasters on the horizon. That is, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are galloping toward every major city where there is a concentration of poor working class people. Like the prophets of old, the social and ethical weathermen of bygone years, I have been sending out daily bulletins of warning and hope. That it is not too late, yet, to turn from social disaster and the fires of hell.

Of course, I am not the only one who is about this work, and have my fears. Though in Turkey, Mackie Blanton has kept abreast of what is happening here in America to his beloved New Orleans. He knows, as most of us, it will never be the same. And maybe that is a good thing, in a sense. New Orleans of the early 80s when I lived there was not the New Orleans I saw last summer, pre-Katrina. The city seemed much more packed in, much more in a state of desperation. My friend Lee Meitzen Grue, the poet of Bywater, was complaining fiercely about the increase of break-ins, the dope trade, and drug addictions. Soon after he picked me up in his  old car, Kalamu told me about the 25% graduation rate at Frederick Douglass High School where he was teaching digital video classes.

So it may take another decade or more before New Orleans regains its near half-million population, before the Flood. The City that Care Forgot has lost much of its black middle-class and nearly all of it its black poor. And maybe its heart and soul, that which made the heart glad even in the midst of going without. There are still a few musicians and poets about town, and a few students.

Though I have known Mackie Blanton for more than twenty years, I have just got to know about his personal life only within the last six months. I did not know he had a wife and daughter, or the contents of his house. I have published him before. I have here at my desk an old copy of a poetry journal I founded in 1985, Cricket: Poems & Other Jazz. Mackie’s poem “Tearoses and Pursestrings,” which sprawls over the page is the last one in an issue that contains the poems of Kalamu ya Salaam, “Haiku No 30”, Richard Katrovas, “The Public Mirror”;  Marcus Bruce Christian, “An Old Dog’s Advice” and “The Big Dog’s Daughter”; Maxine Cassin, “Programming an Evening Away from Home”; Lee Meitzen Grue, “New Orleans in the Rain”; Yusef Komunyakaa, “from Crescent City Blues“; Grace Bauer, “Fat Tuesday”; Labertha McCormick, “Eyes”; James Baptiste, “Street Corna Brother”; Sharon Olinka, “Bring Back the Beatniks”; Mona Lisa Saloy, “French Market Morning.” And the drawings of Jesse Benvenuto.

Surprisingly, 28 March 2000, Mackie Blanton, as Associate Dean of Student Life at the University of New Orleans arranged through UNO, where I taught during the early-mid 80s, my receiving of The Marcus B. Christian Community Service Award, for the work I had done in trying to restore Christian’s work to the African-American canon. What a delight, he had thought of me. But I suppose I got to know much more about Mackie’s personal life when he sent out the missile Eh, La Bas, Cherie!  to assure his friends and associates he had survived the Flood. It expressed his hope of the future and that he would only temporarily delay his trip to Izmir, Turkey.

Mackie had sent me a couple poems before the Flood between 2001 and 2005: Beers and Transformation ; The Struggle Odes, poems on the genocide in Rwanda. And in October of 2005, while in Turkey, he sent me “Neighbors and Invaders.” So several days ago, on receiving an email from him, I asked of his promise to do some travel reports from Turkey. He send me several pieces: a revised version of his poem “Neighbors and Invaders”; a prose piece Earthquakes and Baklava” about his first experience of an earthquake; and the philosophical piece The Lens in Plato’s Eye” on art, memory, and the Real. They are the first three chapters of his travel manuscript. They are quite personal and quite perfect. I think you will enjoy them as I have.

Below is a photo he sent today of him in his room on his laptop. The other contains him and his colleagues. Mackie is on the far left. I told Mackie it appears as if Turkey had treated him well for he looked like a Turk and ten years younger. He looks good.

 Chapter I  (Neighbors and Invaders) Chapter 2 ( Earthquakes and Baklava)  Chapter 3   (The Lens in Plato’s Eye)  Malcolm’s Landing

posted 16 March 2006


Your request encouraged me and I promptly forgot the promise, although I started the ms. Here it is –  the first three musings only – a ms in progress. The first chapter is the poem you already have, somewhat revised; the second chapter (“Earthquakes and Baklavah”) and the third chapter (“The Lens in Plato’s Eye”) are “completed”; the fourth chapter (“Harun”) I just started. A work in progress. I suggest you drop “Harun”. I suggest you retake the opening poem since it’s slightly revised.

Notice my little electric stove top in the background and copper cezve, both of which I bought in the Kemeralti district of Izmir, and a recently released book (edited by Talia Levine Bar-Yoseph) for which I wrote the “Foreword”? — –Mackie

MACKIE JOSEPH-VENET BLANTON, Ph.D.            /            FULBRIGHT SENIOR LECTURER                   /                EDEBIYAT FAKULTESI


*   *   *   *   *’s 25 Best Selling Books

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#1 – Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark #2 – Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree #3 – Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane #4 – Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper #5 – Stackin’ Paper 2 Genesis’ Payback by Joy King #6 – Thug Lovin’ (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark #7 – When I Get Where I’m Going by Cheryl Robinson #8 – Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby #9 – The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 – Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 – Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 – Don’t Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 – For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 – For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 – Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 – The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 – Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 – Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 – Stackin’ Paper by Joy King

#20 – Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 – The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 – Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 – Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 – I Dreamt I Was in Heaven – The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter


#1 – Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable #2 – Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans #3 – Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane #4 – Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper #5 – Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You’re Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant #6 – Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey #7 – The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight #8 – The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing #9 – The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 – John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 – Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 –The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 – The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 – The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 – Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can’t Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 – Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 – Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

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#19 – John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 – Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 – Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 – 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino #23 – Chicken Soup for the Prisoner’s Soul by Tom Lagana #24 – 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 – Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

*   *   *   *   *

1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

By Charles C. Mann

I’m a big fan of Charles Mann’s previous book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, in which he provides a sweeping and provocative examination of North and South America prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus. It’s exhaustively researched but so wonderfully written that it’s anything but exhausting to read. With his follow-up, 1493, Mann has taken it to a new, truly global level. Building on the groundbreaking work of Alfred Crosby (author of The Columbian Exchange and, I’m proud to say, a fellow Nantucketer), Mann has written nothing less than the story of our world: how a planet of what were once several autonomous continents is quickly becoming a single, “globalized” entity.

Mann not only talked to countless scientists and researchers; he visited the places he writes about, and as a consequence, the book has a marvelously wide-ranging yet personal feel as we follow Mann from one far-flung corner of the world to the next. And always, the prose is masterful. In telling the improbable story of how Spanish and Chinese cultures collided in the Philippines in the sixteenth century, he takes us to the island of Mindoro whose “southern coast consists of a number of small bays, one next to another like tooth marks in an apple.” We learn how the spread of malaria, the potato, tobacco, guano, rubber plants, and sugar cane have disrupted and convulsed the planet and will continue to do so until we are finally living on one integrated or at least close-to-integrated Earth. Whether or not the human instigators of all this remarkable change will survive the process they helped to initiate more than five hundred years ago remains, Mann suggests in this monumental and revelatory book, an open question.

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The Persistence of the Color Line

Racial Politics and the Obama Presidency

By Randall Kennedy

Among the best things about The Persistence of the Color Line is watching Mr. Kennedy hash through the positions about Mr. Obama staked out by black commentators on the left and right, from Stanley Crouch and Cornel West to Juan Williams and Tavis Smiley. He can be pointed. Noting the way Mr. Smiley consistently “voiced skepticism regarding whether blacks should back Obama” . . .

The finest chapter in The Persistence of the Color Line is so resonant, and so personal, it could nearly be the basis for a book of its own. That chapter is titled “Reverend Wright and My Father: Reflections on Blacks and Patriotism.”  Recalling some of the criticisms of America’s past made by Mr. Obama’s former pastor, Mr. Kennedy writes with feeling about his own father, who put each of his three of his children through Princeton but who “never forgave American society for its racist mistreatment of him and those whom he most loved.”  His father distrusted the police, who had frequently called him “boy,” and rejected patriotism. Mr. Kennedy’s father “relished Muhammad Ali’s quip that the Vietcong had never called him ‘nigger.’ ” The author places his father, and Mr. Wright, in sympathetic historical light.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery /

George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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update 16 November 2008 




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