Understanding, Faith and Courage

Gupta Combined Files(4)_Page_26The unimaginable horror of five lives lost when something goes horribly wrong in one single mind has haunted many Calgarians over the past few days. The event is painful and baffling. Over the past month or so, even bigger tragedies – the sea of mud that engulfed an entire community in Washington State, the disappearance of the Malaysian Airlines flight, the hundreds of school children lost at sea off South Korea, the sherpas buried by Everest’s wrath – have tormented human understanding, faith, and courage.

We never have, never will, find an answer to the question ‘Why?’ In September 2005, I struggled for a while with a similar question. In the previous month, we had gone through what, in retrospect, seems almost like a joyous pilgrimage. Starting from Nashville with the Grand Ole Opry, to Memphis and the Lorraine Motel and, of course, Graceland, Montgomery and the Rosa Parks Memorial, Birmingham and the King Memorial Baptist Church, and finally to New Orleans. Walking in New Orleans, supposedly a crime-ridden city, we found beauty everywhere – from the vaults in Saint Louis Cemetary, to the outdoor sculptures in NOMA (New Orleans Museum of Art), music in Preservation Hall and the French Quarter, to the mysterious world of the bayous.

Then, suddenly, New Orleans fell apart. In early September 2005, it felt like I had awakened from a dream and stepped into a nightmare called Katrina. Over the months that followed, through the untiring efforts of poet Franklin Reeve, and the generosity of other poets, Bayeux was able to publish “For New Orleans” and Other Poems. When the book came out, it occurred to me that, like Blanche DuBois, publishers “… have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”

While in New Orleans, we kept looking for a streetcar named “Desire” rattling through the old Quarter. We never found it. I wish you could hear the poets themselves reading from “For New Orleans” and Other Poems. They are all priceless gems, and I will end with lines from one –

What a workable world this could be,

If the laboring creature could be programmed

to slave like a drone

With a head full of circuits and no damned

ideas of his own!

How we’d cherish the dear fellow then! How he’d

capture our hearts!

A standardized laboring man with replaceable parts!

-Richard Wilbur

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