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
”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
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
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
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
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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music website >
writing website >
daily blog >
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Guarding the Flame of Life
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New Orleans Jazz Funeral for tuba player Kerwin
They danced atop his casket Jaran 'Julio' Green
* * *
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
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,
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
By Melissa V.
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.
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
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
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updated 23 July 2010