New Orleans Stories

Fernando Marti
Date Published: 
August 12, 2007

Fernando Marti, June 2007

In the first week of June, I had the opportunity to come to New Orleans for a joint conference of progressive community-based urban planners and architects, the Planners Network and the Association for Community Design. In late June, I met up with my friends from PODER-San Francisco in New Orleans, on their way to the US Social Forum in Atlanta. In the two and a half weeks in between these events, I was able to contribute a small amount to the work of some of the organizations doing work on the ground here in New Orleans. Thanks to my hosts, the People’s Hurricane Relief Fund (PHRF), and especially to Claudia Montesinos, an architect and educator working with PHRF and with the MLK, Jr., school in the Lower Ninth Ward, for allowing me this inside look into New Orleans. These are a few observations.

1. Stories

So many stories here in New Orleans. After Katrina, everyone has a story, a whole collective process of therapy. Every store I step into, there’s someone with a story: Going back to your house, everything turned upside down, furniture from the back room of your shotgun house improbably floating to the front room. Shoveling out a foot of mud from the floors. Finding one last picture of your mom, the only picture you’ve got left. Saving a lady’s bird, carrying the bird cage for her all the way to the Superdome, only to have someone kick it, bird flying out, never looking back. “Like maybe we all should do,” he says.

Bourbon Street, the main tourist attraction in the French Quarter still smells like stale beer, and it’s hard to understand its appeal. On a weekend night, it appears to be doing a healthy business of drunken college students and business persons, if one can call that a healthy business, but, from the folks I talk to, that’s about as far as the post-Katrina tourist industry goes, except for occasional events like the Jazz Fest. The tourists are warned not to come down out of the “safe” area of the French Quarter. The white visitors come for the jazz and blues on Bourbon Street, but few venture to Tremé, the real birthplace of jazz, and the historic pre-Civil War quarter of free Blacks just outside the colonial Vieux Carré.

At a bookstore I meet a shopkeeper who can’t take it anymore. She’s packing her books and moving to Houston. New Orleans is now the number one murder capital of the U.S. With desperation comes senseless violence. Suicides are up again, too, she says. Some killed themselves right after Katrina, people who lost everything. But others carried on, came back, plugging away, day after day. Now, however, living in a block empty of people, vacant lots strewn with garbage, no help from the government: the stress is taking its toll. Anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress syndrome… She’s gotta get out, she says, before she breaks down completely. And she shows me her building that she’s put up for sale, bookstore downstairs and a loft above: a cool $900,000. Another one of the contradictions of this city. But then she says, “Just make me an offer…”

You find devastated pockets throughout the city, right next to perfectly fine neighborhoods. There’s boarded-up houses, spray-painted X’s indicating when the house was inspected, by whom, and how many dead bodies were found. Seventeen hundred dead is the low estimate of deaths from Katrina in New Orleans. A second set of spray painted lettering seems to have been done by the SPCA. “Seven cats under house,” says one sign, then, next to it, “many cats.” They couldn’t keep up with the count. This is old news. I remember seeing these images soon after the hurricane, but, incredibly, they are still there. Even many of the houses where people have returned have kept their spray painted X’s, perhaps some badge of defiance: you tried to get us out, but we ain’t going anywhere.

I’m staying in an apartment near Xavier University, rented by People’s Hurricane Relief Fund to house volunteers. There’s a row of buildings across the street, that look like they must have been quite nice once, with big porches, but all the siding and roofing is gone. I notice they’ve fixed up one of them, with a sign, “condo for sale.” One day I wake up to see that half of the closest building is gone, exposing bathrooms and kitchens, the doors of the kitchen cabinets on the second floor swinging wildly, the cabinets still filled with someone’s china. In a half hour the building’s gone, and by the middle of the day the entire row is gone, all their contents bulldozed and lifted into dumpsters. No recycling here…

2. The Lower Ninth Ward

You can often tell where the old Jim Crow segregation lines were by the state of the houses. Claiborne Street was one of those lines, and even after desegregation and all the white people moving to the suburbs, you can still see the difference between north of Claiborne and south of Claiborne. The flood just made it all the more visible. The Claiborne Street line is stark in the Lower Ninth Ward. Some say it was the better quality of the construction south of Claiborne, some say it was the force of the breech at the Industrial Canal levees on the north side, some say it was the city, systematically razing every house north of Caliborne for which they could find an excuse.

Conspiracies are never far from residents minds. Many remember that the levees were intentionally dynamited in 1927, and (many say) again in 1965 after Hurricane Betsy, flooding the Black neighborhoods in order to save upscale white neighborhoods. And then there’s the giant concrete barge which came through the breech in the levee, floating back forth and in the flood, smashing any house in its way…

The Lower Ninth Ward was perceived as a “poor” neighborhood, but, in fact, it was rich with community organizations, and a high rate of homeownership for New Orleans, over 56%. Historically, workers in the Mississippi river shipping industry first bought houses near the River in the Holy Cross area. Slowly, other relatives came, built their houses across St. Claude Avenue, and later generations developed their homes in the last area, north of Claiborne, towards the wetlands. We meet Mr. Blake, who had the first house on his block in 1945. He’s a leader in the Lower Ninth Ward Survivors Council. He walks his neighborhood every day, even though his house is still only an empty lot. He points to where his house was, where his brother lived, where the nightclubs were, the boarded-up school which his children attended. He knew every person on his entire street, knew their kids in the school, organized the Dad’s Club in the school. He will rebuild, he says, he’s not sure how, only that he will rebuild. Part of why so many are eager to return is this aspect of the neighborhood, knowing your neighbor, having all your brothers and sisters and cousins and grandparents within walking distance. But it was also part of the tragedy of the Lower Ninth: entire extended families lost everything they had, and after the flood, many had nowhere else to go to.

South of Claiborne, toward the Mississippi, people are slowly rebuilding, a couple of houses on this block, more in another. It’s where Fats Domino’s house is. It’s where Global Green (with some money and publicity donated by Brad Pitt) is developing five new houses, an 18-unit apartment building, and a community center. They’re supposed to be affordable houses, all green technologies. Everybody talks about the Brad Pitt houses. And everybody talks about the “Road Home” money they’ll never get. Road Home is the Federal program, administered by a private contractor, to help residents rebuild their homes. But no one trusts it. Only 12% of applicants have received any money. And now, everyone’s talking about the $4.4 billion shortfall in the program. If they do get some money, it will hardly be enough to rebuild with. I hear several people say, if Brad Pitt really wanted to help, his money could help supplement people’s meager Road Home money, rather than building showy new green buildings.

Electricity and potable water were only recently restored, telephone service is still absent. One Saturday, I help to gut a house in Lower Ninth, pulling drywall and dryrotted wood to get down to the framing, where it can be treated for mold. There’s only one other house on this block that’s been fixed up, with a forlorn “For Rent” sign on it. The rest of the houses look empty, missing roofs and siding, boarded up windows, the spray painted X’s reminding you that people died here, abandoned in the flood. But the owner of this house is tough. She grew up here, she points to where she went to school as we drive toward her ruined house. She wanted to come back to New Orleans, bought her first house here just one month before Katrina.

North of Claiborne is another story. Block after block is completely empty, maybe one or two houses still standing. For a long time, the area was patrolled by National Guard, and no residents were allowed to inspect their homes, with no clear reason given. Now there’s just fields of hollow concrete foundations, and occasional vacant houses. Spray painted in big letters: “Do not bulldoze. I’m coming back.” No one seems to understand the logic of the bulldozers. Someone’s on the verge of getting their insurance money, they go to the city to pull up their papers on the house they own, still standing, empty, maybe gutted to remove the mold. The next day the bulldozers come to destroy their house. I hear this story numerous times. Many brick buildings, structurally sound, are mysteriously targeted by the bulldozers, while other buildings, obviously uninhabitable, remain untouched.

It’s hard finding much hope after walking through the desolation of the Lower Ninth Ward, so it’s a beautiful surprise to see the rededication of the Martin Luther King, Jr. charter school. As we walk in, the brass band is pumping, Mardi Gras Indians are dancing by, and then come all the preachers. Most public schools in New Orleans are still closed. The city told the parents and teachers of this school that it would have to be torn down. The residents knew it was part of a plan to keep them from returning to the Lower Ninth Ward, and that one of the things they needed to do first was to get a school up and running. The city refused to let them return to the Lower Ninth, placing the school instead in a temporary location on the other side of the city. So the teachers and parents organized, held rallies, and finally broke into their own school. They started gutting it themselves with help from the Common Ground volunteers, and brought in experts to assess the damage. The principal, Mrs. Doris Hicks, and charter school board and teachers were a tenacious lot, bullying their way till they got the money to rebuild their school. Now the politicians occupy the stage, patting themselves on the back for the good job they’ve done, but everyone tells me, it was all due to the teachers and parents. And with tremendous sacrifice. “The homecoming is bittersweet,” Principal Hicks says at the rededication, “because at least 30 students and family members died during the storm…” It’s the biggest sign of life in this desolate strip, but a sign that human perseverance will overcome, whether it’s the ineptitude or conspiracy, of the city. As I write this, two weeks after the rededication, everything is ready to go for the start of the school year, but the school district still has not handed over the keys to the school to the staff.

The school is an integral part of the children’s (and adults’) process of healing after the devastation. One of Claudia’s projects is working with the Mos Chukma Institute, the school’s arts and technology program, led by Amelie Prescott, to design projects on the school’s grounds. The ‘Learning Landscape’, a project of the University of Colorado, is one of several focusing on the renewal of the Lower 9th Ward’s community and land. The road from the school leads through the neighborhood to where it dead ends at the Bayou Bienvenue, once the wetlands that were the life blood of the area. Past the last street in the neighborhood (where just before Katrina hit, planners had been talking of building a highway through the neighborhood), over the levee and the train tracks. It’s another world here, just past the ruins of houses, where people used to come to fish. Tree stumps emerge from the water, where the saltwater brought in by the canals has killed the cypresses. Here, on the levee wall, you can see how close the city is to the edge of nature. Along the industrial canal, they’ve built a new concrete levee wall, twice as thick as the old one. But it mysteriously ends at the bridge and before it reaches the end of the neighborhood. Over here, “Make Levees Not War” is a popular t-shirt slogan.

Common Ground is an organization in the Lower Ninth working with homeowners to gut their houses, to try to save them from the mold. They also run several community health clinics and several legal clinics in various parts of New Orleans and Algiers. The Common Ground house, close to the levee breach, has become an important landmark in a corner of the neighborhood where few houses survive. It has special significance in the neighborhood as the first location where Blacks were able to vote. Now that the city has begun using overgrown yards as one of their excuses to say a house has been abandoned, and to move in to destroy it, the Common Ground volunteers are having to spend a great deal of their time just cutting back weeds. Meanwhile, people who are ready to start rebuilding continue waiting for their insurance and Road Home money. Common Ground is bringing solar panels and windmills to the neighborhood, to try to maintain independence from the electrical grid which has been so unresponsive to the neighborhood. They also have a small tree farm, growing live oaks, tupelos, and cypresses. Around the houses occupied by Common Ground, volunteers have started planting sunflowers to treat the lead in the soil, and they rise from the ruined parcels like new hope. Malik Rahim, director of Common Ground, talks about the need to remediate the wetlands, to bring the cypress trees back. Areas with healthy wetlands suffered much less from the hurricanes. If we’re going to rebuild, he says, we’ve got to do it right, without dependence on outside forces.

There are other little signs of hope. While most stores are still closed, a farmer’s market is up and running on Saturdays, just across the Industrial Canal, still small, with just a few vendors. Claudia introduces me to Greta Gladney of the Renaissance Project, one of the founders of the market, who she’s working with. Greta has high hopes for healing the neighborhood. She’s a fourth generation resident of the Lower Ninth. The flood destroyed her grandfather’s house in the area north of Claiborne, and she does not plan to rebuild. Instead, she hopes to turn her property into an ethno-botanical garden, a symbol of regeneration and re-engagement with the land, to serve her neighbors as they return to the neighborhood.

We pass by the first two new houses built in the Lower Ninth Ward, finished in February. These were long-term Lower Ninth residents, elders in the community, who can finally return, hopefully creating a center for their extended families to begin returning. But it’s a challenge. Most of the homeowners in the Lower Ninth had paid off their mortgages years ago, and now many are being asked to return to paying off their debt for their new houses. They hope their insurance money and Road Home money, when it shows up, will pay off the loans for the $125,000 houses. The houses were built by a collaboration of ACORN Housing, the “communityworks,” program of the Louisiana State University architecture school, and several local job-training programs. Two houses in two years makes the task seem so enormous. But, Patricia Jones, of the Neighborhood Empowerment Network Association (NENA), tells us, that’s how it’s happening, one house at a time, that’s how we’ll have rebuild the whole neighborhood. House by house.

3. Tenants

It’s a different story at the public housing. I visit the Survivor’s Village community center located just outside the St. Bernard Development, a sprawling public housing project encompassing many blocks. Sharon Jasper, a (former) public housing resident, tells us about the projects: the public housing was where people went when the hurricanes came, the safest place around, made of strong wind-resistant concrete construction. The tenants and their friends would have parties inside while the hurricane whipped around outside. The morning after Katrina, she says, there was a strong sun, the sky was clear. People were coming out to celebrate. Then the water started rising around them. And that night, she remembers, the sky was so clear, no electricity, the city blacked out, the stars reflected on the black waters.

Now the projects are closed, here at St. Bernard and at Lafitte, and at two other developments. Over 4,500 units vacant, in this city with such an extreme housing shortage. Iberville was partially reopened recently. Used to be, Iberville, by the French Quarter south of Claiborne, was built for the Irish workers, and Lafitte, north of Claiborne, was built for the black workers. The local public housing agency, HANO, had been taken over by the Feds before Katrina. Like they’re talking about doing in SF. HUD had no interest in keeping the projects open, and started systematically shutting them down. St. Thomas near the Garden District was turned into a Wal Mart. The flood was just the excuse they needed, and now HUD says that the projects are unsafe and unlivable. Even though everyone knows they were the safest place in a hurricane. The hotel and night club owners in the French Quarter complained about the need to rehouse their workers, and suddenly Iberville wasn’t so unsafe, and they were able to reopen it. But Lafitte and St. Bernard remain closed.

The folks at the Survivors Village re-occupied St. Bernard in the spring, and the sheriffs came and tore out all the doors so people couldn’t blockade themselves in. Then the tenants built a little row of shacks in front of the projects, “Resurrection City,” to highlight their need for housing, and the bulldozers, which had left trash in the city streets for weeks, showed up the next day to sweep them away. It was a particularly violent day in New Orleans, seven murders within 48 hours, and all the police were out at St. Bernard to tear down Resurrection City. It’s easy to see why people keep describing this as a “war zone.” There’s a golf course developer interested in developing St. Bernard. As one Survivor’s Village organizer put it, the plan is simple, for all of New Orleans: “Smaller. Whiter. More affluent.”

Our bus driver takes us past the Lafitte Development. Lafitte is made of even more beautiful brick two-story buildings with wrought iron balconies. Now they are boarded up with electronically alarmed panels to prevent anyone from trying to enter and reclaim his or her belongings, signs tacked on the doors advising tenants not to return, and that they will be prosecuted as trespassers. I grew up here, our bus driver says, I still live in the neighborhood. Sure, there was crime, craziness, but there was also community. This city is for everyone. Everyone knew each other.

Some days later, I meet some of the people with the nonprofit that’s going to redevelop Lafitte, Providence Community Housing. Providence Housing was created by the Catholic Church, and they seem well connected in the city politics. They already have tens of millions of dollars in government contracts and tax credit commitments, though they were only formed after Katrina. and have only built five houses so far. John Turnbull, their head of housing development, takes a group of us to Lafitte. He recognizes that the buildings are probably sound, but, he also says, it’s a done deal. HUD already made the decision. They want to get rid of the layout, which in places is disconnected from the streets, and they want little wooden houses that look traditional. If it wasn’t us doing it, it would be someone else, he says. Providence has been in close contact with many of the former residents, particularly in Houston, and promises to rebuild the same number of affordable units as existed before Katrina, to ensure that everyone who lived there before can return.

Sounds like “the same old story” familiar to those of who have worked around public housing issues in San Francisco, promise the tenants they can return, but what finally gets built has only a few affordable units. Providence seems sincere, but the experience of St. Thomas, another public housing redevelopment that was turned into a Wal Mart and high-end housing, makes most people I talk to highly skeptical. We leave with that, “it’s a done deal,” and they’re doing the best they can. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned working with MAC and other organizers in San Francisco, is that it’s never a done deal until it’s actually done. Right now a lawsuit by the Advancement Project, filed on behalf of the public housing tenants, is making it’s way through the courts, disputing HUDs figures that it would cost more to refurbish the buildings than to destroy them and start new.

And then there’s the rest of the city’s tenants. Like a lot of big cities, New Orleans was majority renters, close to 56% before Katrina. There’s the dream of Road Home money for homeowners, however tenuous that is, but absolutely no support for renters from the government. With the housing shortage created by Katrina, rents are sky-high, close to San Francisco levels. The People’s Hurricane Relief Fund has set up a Tenant’s Rights Working Group, but it’s going to be a long struggle. Louisiana has a statewide law that keeps local cities from passing any rent control ordinances, and so the Tenant’s Rights group is trying to develop an argument based on the price gouging that’s going on.

The New Orleans city government at least seems to have a sense of humor about it’s own ineptness and corruption. It’s web site address is “City of NO dot com.” That seems to sum it all up.

Part of my two weeks here are spent sharing my experience as a founding member of the San Francisco Community Land Trust with Claudia and PHRF and other folks here who are interested in starting something similar. The idea of the community owning their own land through democratic institutions, and leasing the land for homeowners, co-ops, etc., is particularly appealing in the Lower Ninth Ward, where the developers and the speculators have started circling like sharks. Land trusts seem to be on everyone’s mind. To be successful, a community land trust must bring together a wide cross-section of the community, willing to put in their time and effort into creating something entirely new. And here, nerves are frayed, different community groups sometimes refuse to talk to each other, resources are scarce, and the community is scattered across the country.

Someone tells me about the live oaks. They are everywhere in New Orleans streets. Like the Vieux Carré, the shotgun houses, and the bayous, they are part of what defines the physical nature of this city. Only a few were lost in Katrina: their torqued limbs get their strength from the wind itself, and when the storms come, their leaves close up to allow the air through. Sometimes they lose some sacrificial limbs. But the important thing is, they grow in communities, their intertwined roots holding them together, holding them against the storm. In New Orleans, between the storm and government inaction, entire human communities have been scattered and destroyed. Rebuilding community remains as critical a task as rebuilding the houses.

4. Organizing on our own terms

After Katrina, a number of new organizations have developed out of the wreckage to begin filling in necessary services and organizing work. Many of these are not just about dropping in with support services from outside of the city, but attempts at creating new models of organizing in people’s own terms, from the experience of the displaced residents of the Lower Ninth Ward, to the new set of issues around the immigrant labor force coming to do rebuilding, to the unique circumstances of women in devastated neighborhoods.

I hear various discussions about the necessity of women to organize on their own terms, especially with so many organizations led by men. One night, I get the opportunity to meet some of the powerful members of INCITE, Women of Color Against Violence. One of the projects INCITE is involved with is the Women’s Health and Justice Initiative, a new free clinic in the Tremé neighborhood. The new clinic is led and run by women, and has been mostly funded by individual donations. After Katrina the city’s entire health network was destroyed, and out of 17 hospitals in the city, only 5 have reopened. Later, I meet another powerful woman, Alice Craft-Kerney, director for the Lower 9th Ward Health Clinic, another organization, like the Martin Luther King School, that had to be built despite the efforts of the government to keep it shut down. On the opening day of the clinic, during the grand opening celebration, the building inspector showed up to tell them they could not operate because they did not have the proper permits. While there are people dying in the streets. Alcie was a clinical nurse, not an administrator, but after Katrina she realized that someone had to make this happen. “The buses never came,” she says. “We had to do it all ourselves.”

Creating Black-Brown unity is a big theme among organizers here, fighting not only against the perception of tensions between black workers who grew up in New Orleans and the Latino workers who have arrived after Katrina, but also trying to unify workers against racism from the same quarters. For the day laborers on the corners, conditions are extreme, constantly harassed by police, and often forced to turn over their wallets and money to corrupt officers. During the time I’m here, the next parish over from Orleans, Jefferson Parish (infamous as the home of David Duke) passes a law outlawing taco trucks.

Elly Kugler, who I know as a former staff person at the Day Labor Program of La Raza Centro Legal in the Mission, introduces me to Ruben Flores, a guest worker from Bolivia. Elly now works with the Workers Center for Racial Justice in New Orleans, fighting against the injustices being committed against immigrant workers. Ruben is part of the Alliance for Guest Workers for Dignity. He tells us about the conditions for workers brought in under a guest worker program that’s been operating to bring people in from Latin America to work in New Orleans, a model for the “Immigration Reform” bills being discussed in Congress. The way he describes it, it is basically a form of indentured servitude. He was recruited by a contracting agency in Bolivia. He had to borrow $3,500 to pay the recruiter for the visa and the ticket, and prove that he owned a home, was married, and a host of other requirements, before he could get an H-2B work visa. Once in New Orleans, he was placed in a crowded FEMA trailer park, and then traded from company to company, and from one type of work to another, with no control, from a service industry job he thought he was going to get, to back-breaking factory work. “We belong to one employer,” he says. “Their name is inscribed in our passports. If you don’t obey, they can deport you, and you can lose everything. Or they take away your passport. They sell you to another company for $2,000 a head.” If a company no longer has use for a person, they automatically lose their visa status and become undocumented. Another day laborer, Daniel Castellanos, talks about working in the hotels, where the staff had once been almost entirely African American. “They want us to fight,” he says, “the old slaves and the new slaves.”

One day I meet up with Ingrid Chapman, from the Bay Area’s Catalyst Project, who is volunteering with the People’s Organizing Committee and the New Orleans Survivor’s Council. After a series of incidents of police harassment and arrests of day laborers, the Survivor’s Council put up some support for the day laborers. In return, the Day Laborers Congress is donating labor to help fix up the house of one of their members, double shotgun house belonging to 80-year old Mrs. Green. Another hard-to-believe story, like so many stories I hear in New Orleans. The insurance company will pay only $20,000 to repair one half of the double shotgun, but will pay nothing for the other half, because in their opinion, the other half of the house is over 54% destroyed, and will therefore not pay anything. So Mrs. Green will try to seal in one half as best she can, and try to fix the other half with her meager insurance money and the day laborers’ donated work. I get to help draw up plans and translate instructions for the work to be done.

On my last day in New Orleans, on June 25, a People’s Freedom Caravan arrives from the Southwest. Buses from Albuquerque, San Antonio, Houston, and other places, arrive, on their way to the first US Social Forum, beginning this week in Atlanta. San Francisco’s own PODER arrives in two vans, with 3 staff members and about a dozen youth organizers from PODER’s Common Roots program. We meet up at Congo Square in Tremé, where many local organizations have come together to greet the Caravan. We are on sacred ground, Kimberly Richards of the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond, tells us, as we begin the ceremony at Congo Square. This place is where the rivers met outside of the first walled city of New Orleans, where the Native people and the Black people, and the Spanish people and the French people, all came together to trade. Historically, it was the one place where Black people were allowed to drum in public. Here we’ve all come together, from different parts of the United States, to celebrate our common struggles.

5. Third World (poem)

I’ve been here just two weeks, and
I keep hearing that this is the Third World.
See, I come from the Third World, (and
I say it proudly, Tercer Mundo, though
it would make my mama upset, she thinks
they made that up to make us all Tercera Clase,
and I don’t want to get into with her about
Mao Tse-tung and his Three Worlds Theory)
but, back to where I’m at:
New Orleans, 2007, after the flood.

They say that this is the Third World.
Maybe they mean how slow things move here,
like molasses, they say, like you and me
on a porch in the afternoon, the sky so still
before it breaks in two, like how suddenly
the thunderclouds appear like a revolution
no one could have predicted, though
you and I always knew it was coming.
maybe it’s how much you sweat here,
how steam rises from the asphalt and
cobblestones after the rain finally stops,
how hot it is, June, midnight, and
how hot you look, all of you, New Orleans.

Maybe it’s the missing street signs,
always getting lost, or the broken stop
light, flashing to its own syncopation.
Maybe it’s the army hum-vees rolling by,
MPs, National Guard, private contractors,
remember Fallujah? or the cop sleeping
in his squad car under an overpass.
Maybe it’s one more sordid story, you
just can’t believe, of wads of cash in freezers –
Who keeps wads of cash in freezers anyway?
This must be the Third World.

Maybe it’s just getting by, or making do, or
knowing your neighbor’s story.
Maybe it’s the swamps and mosquitoes,
maybe it’s the alligator making its way out
of the river and down a Bywater street.
Maybe it’s all the dark people.
Maybe it’s the Indian in feathers, scaring away
the evil spirits with a sharpened antler.

Maybe it’s the waiting for the hurricane
with your family in the projects,
maybe it’s the party as the sky comes down.
Maybe it’s the waiting.
Maybe it’s knowing help ain’t coming,
and the only way out is with a little
help from your friends.

Maybe it’s that so many leave.
Maybe it’s that there’s nothing to come back to,
and you come back anyway.
Maybe it’s always coming back.
So Third World of you.