Cynthia Hogue


 


Ardie's Story: Direct Hit (Diamondhead, Mississippi)
                          

1

 

This is me. This is my life. 

Here is my daughter Colleen

with President Bush’s Secret

Service man acting aloof. 

Here’s Haley Barbour. 

This is St. Stanislaus,

pretty much leveled.  

Here’s my daughter’s classroom in

Our Lady Academy which

they’d just built.  Each year we

had to give $250 to pay for this school. 

Colleen went here from 7th

grade to graduation.  Here

it is after the hurricane.

These are all her weird friends.

They wrote plays at our house,

put them on in different classes

Colleen and this girl combined characters—

Alice in Wonderland, the Titanic,

Shakespeare and Greek myth. 

They were really cute. 

This is graduation.  The floorboards

were this far apart.  We saw grass growing

underneath.  Here is St. Claire’s,

the school, the church, the nunnery. 

This is the Highway 90.

This is the beach.

This is the Gulf of Mexico

backed up to Bay St. Louis

which backed up to the Jordan River. 

And we flooded

right here north of the I-10. 

 


2

 

Monday morning, Colleen’s father

woke me about 8:30.  Our backyard flooded

right up to the patio.  Then the carpets started

buckling from below.  I opened

the bedroom door and yelled,

“You girls better get your

asses up because the water is

coming into this house.” 

My daughter was in a pair of softies

and a swimsuit.  Virginia had on shorts

and a T-shirt.  I grabbed insurance papers,

my coin purse for tips—I was a bartender

at the casino—a little medicine, put them

in a mudbag I tossed in

the attic.  We had our two

cats, Virginia’s cat, a Pekingese

we were taking care of for someone

who’d gone to Chicago, Colleen’s goldfish

that she won, which had grown this big,

and we all went to the attic and looked down. 

The water rose to the top of the bottom

window in the living room,

my TV, leather sectional,

double-door refrigerator

floating around so we went downstairs

and my ex broke the window and we each

crawled on the sill and jumped in the water. 

By 9:20, we’re hanging on the gutters

off the roof.  My ex pulls himself up,

then Colleen, Virginia’s a little

heavy and he popped the bone

out of his leg hauling her up. 

Then he helped me—we did all this

in 5 minutes—and crawled up the peak

because the water had reached the roof.

We found a sheet of tin floating by

that we used to keep the wind

from blowing us off in the rain,

and we clung close to four hours

listening to pine cones and needles

from the pine trees zing by,

watching my new Altima, my daughter’s Acura,

Virginia’s mother’s Suburban,

and the neighbor’s pickup truck playing

bumper cars in the cove.

Then all of a sudden the cars

were underwater—whoosh—gone. 

The girls said, We need to swim over

to a higher roof, and I said, You girls

are crazy.  You see that wild boar? 

A wild boar back of the house

was swimming for his life in the direction

they wanted to go.  We’re not going

anywhere.  By 2 p.m. we sat in the

hurricane’s eye in dead calm. 

My ex found a 2 by 4 in the water

and poked a hole in the roof, 

pulled us into the attic with the animals

where we sat on the rafters until the storm

turned and pushed the water back to the Gulf.

 

 

*

 

We were across the I-10. 

We weren’t supposed to be hit.

On the other side of Diamondhead,

there was not one thing left—

the airport, all the people with their planes,

their hangars,

the yacht club—

everything destroyed. 

My daughter’s friend and his father clung to a tree. 

Donnie got to the I-10 bridge,

waded to our house, and called, Anybody there

Close to 6 o’clock we reached the church. 

They had a grill going,

and water, soft drinks, wine.

A man on oxygen

was dying.  A little girl,

I think, too.  I don’t know what was wrong.

The paramedics came, but no doctors. 

We tried to sleep on the pews. 

People coming all night,

talking and talking, no peace possible.

 


3

 

In the morning, the Baptists made breakfast.

A man who owned a bunch of McDonald

franchises in Tuscaloosa, who didn’t know

we were dirt poor, invited us to his big house,

which only lost a few trees.  His hurricane

preparation was 6 bottles of water, peanut butter,

crackers and a can of tuna. 

This man was obviously

a big business person

but he was a mess.  My daughter went

for two weeks to the land of no

electricity, no running water, no

flush toilets—Salteo, Mexico—as

president of Our Lady of the Gulf

Catholic Youth Organization with two

busloads of mostly black kids from

            St. Rose of Lima to do

community service.  A month

            after she got back, Katrina hit. 

She knew just how to brush teeth

using little water, how to disinfect hands

with Listerine.  She’d bought a guitar

in Mexico, which survived.  With our jacuzzi.

My ex had been—you can turn that off

and I’ll tell you.  Lots and lots of people

got divorced.  Lots gone crazy.

Here is my boyfriend I met here. 

Here we are together.  I wouldn’t

make it without him.  I should show you

a video of this guy getting deluged

and dying in his truck.  My girlfriend said

she’d send me a copy but she hasn’t yet.

Here is a datebook that starts the day

Katrina hit.  Here is my trip across country. 

This is my story.  Can you believe

somebody has a datebook starting

the first day of the rest of her life?

 


 

 

Acknowledgments

 

I thank the Katrina evacuee who shared her story of duress, courage, and survival with me: Ardys Cooper, former resident of Diamondhead, MS, where she bartended at the casino.  This an interview-poem and her words are used with permission, part of an ongoing interview project in collaboration with the photographer, Rebecca Ross, the work-in-progress entitled Voiceprints: A Katrina Elegy.

 

 






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