PRESERVATION, an essay

From my essay, “Preservation”
the Oxford American, Spring 2017

When our daughter was just a month old, Hurricane Sandy pummeled the eastern seaboard, flooding our neighbors’ houses, burning towns. While the peaks of a rollercoaster showed like volcanic islands above the surf, I sat on the sofa, nursing, and watched with strange glee as our windows curved inward like heavy balloons. Your first hurricane, I whispered into her bald head. See, you’re a New Orleanian after all.

Nothing made sense: After a hundred and fifty years, I was the first one in my family to build a house somewhere else—to bear a child somewhere else. And why? Because of my husband’s job? I could not articulate it, but the storm was no excuse. Sure, my parents’ roof had come off, but many had lost so much more and still returned.

We visited, of course. We’d feed the ducks and ibises, climb the oaks whose limbs bowed like elephants getting down on their knees. We taught our daughter how to roll down a levee, throw a line, and we danced in the crush at the Blue Nile where ten years ago, a girl sang through a blackout while I spun in an orange dress, falling fast in love. On holidays, I set my grandmoth- er’s table with oranges and palmettos and a long starched cloth, let the crabmeat-man in through the side door. When are you coming back to me? my grandmother said at ninety- two—then ninety-three.

My father held my daughter to his chest and sang the songs he once sang to me, and my mother sat with her on top of a tall black horse. I turned on WWOZ, and my daughter shrieked, That’s jazz!, and her mouth was green with spearmint snowball; she smelled of earth and dogs and sweat.