It’s Hard Post-Katrina New Orleans

It’s Hard Post-Katrina New Orleans


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



I was holding Doug, his hands shaking uncontrollably, his head toppling over and going

down to the table top. As I had embraced him, I felt the retching wracking his body



It’s Hard: Post-Katrina New Orleans

 By Kalamu ya Salaam


The back of his hand was peeling off. He grabbed a plastic bottle of lotion to slather on. ”What’s that?” I ask. He looks at his wrinkled fingers, huge flaps of top skin hanging loosely, and then looks up into my eyes. I don’t look away. I’ve seen his artist hands at work for over three decades: working wood, canvas, and paper; wielding knives, brushes, and pencils. I remember us laughing about the nicks, cuts, stains and bruises; that was just part of the cost of being the type of artist he was. Walking through the arches in Congo Square at Jazzfest, Africa-inspired images sticking up thirty feet in the air; that was Doug’s art. The Tamborine & Fan flyers from the seventies. The design of Ashe Cultural Center in the new millennium. All of that, Doug’s artwork. From drawings to drums, flyers to architectural designs, all graceful examples of his artistic efforts. A squeamish part of me wanted to avoid confronting Doug’s deformed hands but I didn’t turn away because, well, because this was one moment when he needed me to look without embarrassment. He was sick. I was well. If he could look, I should be able to also. But it wasn’t easy. Observing a man weakened and suffering is difficult. Doug was always slim, but now he is almost skeletal. And those black gloves with white stripes that looked like bones that Doug wears to cover the raw patches disfiguring his hands don’t help. ”What?” he asks. I answer immediately, “I was asking what that lotion was.” I could not help but think back a couple of weeks to when I was holding Doug, his hands shaking uncontrollably, his head toppling over and going down to the table top. As I had embraced him, I felt the retching wracking his body, but there had been nothing left to throw up. My left arm all the way around him, I used my right hand, thumb to ear and little finger next to my mouth, to motion for Carol to call the ambulance. ”Talk to me, Doug,” I implored but he was near unconscious. “Talk to me.” When he mumbled a few words I breathed a bit easier. Eventually, with both my arms around him, he was able to stand and we had inched over to the sofa and he lay down. I ran downstairs to make sure when the medics arrived they would be able to get into the locked bottom floor door, onto the elevator and up to #314. As I sat outside hearing a siren draw closer, I was thinking and thinking and thinking. And hurting. A month or so ago, Doug had had a seizure. The subsequent diagnosis was brain tumors. And lung cancer. Radiation treatment for tumors and now chemotherapy for cancer. Doug had weathered the radiation, but the cost had been high. First they cut his locks. Soon the short hair disappeared, and then the scalp wrinkled leaving mini-hills and valleys rutting his skull, with only a small, horizontal tuff of hair remaining at the base where the back of the head hits the shoulders. Morbidly I wondered were those ridges solid or soft, but I had been neither brave nor invasive enough to reach out and finger the bumps. After checking his vital signs (which were strong), the EMS techs assured us the reactions Carol and I were struggling to deal with were normal for chemo patients. That’s life in New Orleans post-Katrina: everybody is valiantly trying to keep it together, everybody is dealing with some kind of trauma. Every extended family has someone ill who needs care, or someone who needs shelter, or someone who needs—there are so many needs. We just have to keep pushing. I exhale, look over and smile at Doug standing there cupping a hand full of light-colored goo. “Yeah, that cocoa butter is good for your hands,” I said quietly. Doug sat on the sofa and vigorously rubbed in the lotion. I sat up in the straight back chair. We were spending another of beaucoup hours with each other. I pull the night shift and make sure that Doug takes his medication at 9pm. It’s hard. Hard for Doug to take the handful of pills, some of them the size of lozenges. His tongue has lost its normal taste, no food has an agreeable flavor. Something in the treatment has made his throat raw, even a tiny pill hurts to swallow. Radiation and chemo are killing good cells while trying to wipe out bad cells. To get well, Doug has to get sick. It’s hard. As hard as it is for him, it’s also emotionally taxing for me. I gather myself everyday and take the elevator to the third floor to spend hours with my friend. I’ve been following this regime for over a month now. The routine will go on for who knows how long—I psyche myself up to share energy with Doug. Day in, day out. Over and over. It’s hard but it’s beautiful. As tired as I be when I drag home at night and force myself to work for another hour or so, getting to bed usually between midnight and 1am, no matter, I’m always ready for the next day, renewed by the goodness of sharing life and love with a man I love.

posted 19 June 2006

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Men We Love, Men We HateSAC writings from Douglass, McDonogh 35, and McMain high schools in New Orleans.

An anthology on the topic of men and relationships with men

Ways of LaughingAn Anthology of Young Black VoicesPhotographed & Edited by Kalamu ya Salaam

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music website > writing website > daily blog > twitter > facebook >

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Guarding the Flame of Life

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New Orleans Jazz Funeral for tuba player Kerwin James / They danced atop his casket Jaran ‘Julio’ Green

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02_My_Story,_My_Song.mp3 (24503 KB)

(Kalamu reading “My Story, My Song”

Featuring blues guitarist Walter Wolfman Washington)

Track List 1.  Congo Square (9:01) 2.  My Story, My Song (20:50) 3.  Danny Banjo (4:32) 4.  Miles Davis (10:26) 5.  Hard News For Hip Harry (5:03) 6.  Unfinished Blues (4:13) 7.  Rainbows Come After The Rain (2:21)/Negroidal Noise (15:53) 8.  Intro (3:59) 9.  The Whole History (3:14) 10.  Negroidal Noise (5:39) 11.  Waving At Ra (1:40) 12.  Landing (1:21) 13.  Good Luck (:04)

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Blacks in Hispanic Literature: Critical Essays

Edited by Miriam DeCosta-Willis 

Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a collection of fourteen essays by scholars and creative writers from Africa and the Americas. Called one of two significant critical works on Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late 1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of Carter G. Woodson and Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an historical context for understanding 20th-century creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone writers, such as Cuban Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist, and scholar Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the significance of Negritude in Latin America. This collaborative text set the tone for later conferences in which writers and scholars worked together to promote, disseminate, and critique the literature of Spanish-speaking people of African descent. . . . Cited by a literary critic in 2004 as “the seminal study in the field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which most scholars in the field ‘cut their teeth’.”

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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

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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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If you like this page consider making a donation

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Negro Digest / Black World

Browse all issues

1950        1960        1965        1970        1975        1980        1985        1990        1995        2000 ____ 2005        


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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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updated  23 July 2010




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