Editor’s Note: Jackie Haze took part in Richard Goodman’s Master of Fine Arts nonfiction writing workshop at the University of New Orleans, where the students take a kayak trip down a southeastern Louisiana bayou in order to observe the issues and conditions that make the bayous beautiful and precarious. Once they finish their full-day kayaking adventure, the students reflect and write, creating pieces that encapsulate their experience and give new awareness about the bayous. ViaNolaVie will be running these pieces as a continued series every week, and you can also read more student writing here and here. And now for Jackie Haze’s “Skimming the Surface.”
I don’t know you well. I see hints of familiarity, though, like in the thousand year old cypress trees jutting from your bayou, dangling Spanish moss from their mostly naked bodies; they look like the elders of the Michigan willows I am used to, aching to be young again, but stoically proud in their wisdom. They stand triumphant over swelling waters, braving the even tide for the ever tide.
There are some, too, who stand broken, yet reaching above the surface like the decaying hands we imagine reaching from bygone graves. My partner sees the especially large amount of crows here, connecting them to the lives lost in your storms.
I suppose most anyone here or far could know you well in the way the slightest glance can lend distant, yet intimate understanding. Your body is built from the sediment of a rushing river that spans the vast distance of land that holds you, in a similar manner of one’s being having been built on the vast distance of cellular memory and the build up or break down of embrace or rejection from those around them. So many have known well the building of walls, the protecting of oneself, in fear of what murders us and thus, too, what gives life, only to result in drying out and sinking. What once was a church or a playground becomes a risk, becomes a recession into oneself from which nothing more can become. How fitting, then, that a digital rendering of the reduction of your wetlands looks skeletal. From those rooted here by default of generations to lost souls running through rainstorms without home to embed themselves in the geography of your body, watching the pulse of footsteps hoping for their turn, people inhabit the skeletal dryland of your bones, burrowing into the marrow of what is left. Then there are the “bigwigs” from the smokestacks who dig deeper to siphon the last of your resources for personal advancement, a kind of steroid shot in an already high horse. We have all been there at one time or another.
On the eve of the autumnal equinox, we skimmed the swell of what both nourishes and destroys you. We glided along the surface of your teetering fate, snakes meandering beneath, an alligator watching in stillness. Above, an eagle had built its nest in the mangled fingers of an old tree. “If you don’t have fins, you die,” we had been told prior to floating between fight and flight. And how strange the slide on neutral territory, the make or break of your body, where all of us were spectators and none of us contenders. We were pushed out onto Lake Maurepas like the sediments that built you, all a culmination of the sentiments which built us.
You were true to yourself when it rained. Each heavy drop multiplying in the crash of its own splash; how what may be so magical can also be lethal. Heading back to your ever shrinking body that would carry us each to our impermanent dwellings, we roughed it in the downpour through areas smothering the flow. Bug bites welting like lashes, we gripped at the life above your surface to pull ourselves by. It seemed similar to the scenes of old war movies, as we fight our own from time to time. The things we carry, Louisiana, the things you carry.
We paused under the overpass, something closer to immediacy fueled by your detriment, the reaping of all that is left. I had sung the songs of Pocahontas from the plastic rendition of her canoe. Maybe in time, just around the riverbend, another person will float above the overpass, a haunting of days gone by dressed in the green of the sea. Far from shore, they will squint below your surface to what has fins and think how lucky it might have been to fly. The more youthful trees, perhaps, will have become the elders that saw us through our brief journey and those who once stood triumphant will be reaching out from their watery graves. Maybe not. Maybe you will remain long after we are gone, ever the triumphant, ever the wise. Either way, you are no more Louisiana than we are our names, than I am,
Jackie Haze is an MFA candidate who skips around with her beloved mini chihuahua, Bacchus. She is a spoken word poet, authored Borderless, and has had work published in Curve and Happy Cow.