Irene Vázquez took a tour of the Honey Island Swamp as part of her research for this project. Here she combines audio collected from the tour with her poem, one that addresses the systemic issues that plague the Gulf.
The Black Shoals
Title after Tiffany Lethabo King
Swallow me whole,
oh beast of the Southern radar,
patron of the disaster zone, of the unsurvivable
storm surge, oh surveiller of our anxieties,
of a drowning foretold.
Here we are in another August
of hot darkness, another storm
ravaging the Black Shoals,
and I am told the map
isn’t even accurate anymore,
the coastline has eroded so much
that Louisiana is no longer a boot shape,
our shores more saltwater than homestead,
and I click through headlines on Twitter like it’s all new.
My lungs were declared a disaster zone
long ago. My people have wandered,
and were lost,
refugees in their own country,
their homes named uninhabitable
long before the storm even hit.
I have lived 15 years flinching
at the slightest crack of thunder, but it is August.
Three months into a national uprising,
400-plus years into a people’s apocalypse,
twenty days after a man was shot
in the back seven times in Wisconsin,
and I am tired
of telling people these are “natural” disasters.
Three years ago,
when the last storm hit,
I might have told you that every five hundred years
someone must bear the sins
of a people,
but in the years since my hands
first began to shake,
I have learned who and what and where is responsible,
and as the storm spins in the radar,
I watch colonization unfold in real time:
Man-made climate change
spins whiteness into stacks
of white cumulonimbus.
As the eye of the storm intensifies
with each degree stacked in the gulf,
each tick moves upward on the stock exchange.
someone didn’t dream up this deluge,
this clearing of land, uninhabitable,
tell me who has the right to remain,
tell me, without flinching,
that my life matters.
Truth be told,
the storm isn’t even the half of it:
ain’t nothing new
‘bout our lands declared,
cleared for industrial use,
for flume and flare,
for fire and brimstone,
this place, the only one where we were allowed
Refineries, petrochemical infestations
have taken hold in our homelands,
and in the days before natural disaster
they unleash one manmade all on their own,
here, our bodies,
marked in yellow tape,
flooding the lungs of our communities
with the smoke from their stacks.
Oh, our lady of perpetual fever dreams,
our asphalt sovereign,
mother of ozone action days and
asthmatic breath —
behold how the men have partitioned
our city, sliced and diced
until all that is left
is to worry and wait.
We were never meant to survive.
And ain’t that some shit.
Ain’t that something holy
in all this mudbound,
ain’t that some Black life. For still,
I sit here loving you,
blessed city of perpetual raincloud.
We who have kept on,
pressing towards the mark.
We, brought here to these Black Shoals,
long before the storms came.
We, who will keep the land,
long after our captors are gone.