A Quarterly Journal of Contemporary English Language Haibun
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December 2008, vol 4 no 4

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Renee Owen


Higher Ground

My green 1966 Cutlass lurches to a stop. Best friend and U-Haul trailer with Florida plates in tow. Two blocks off St. Charles Avenue, in front of a rambling white house. Disheveled, like the one in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. Only minus the birds. Soon to be filled with college roommates. Unbelievable heat, humidity. My best friend flees. So does everyone else with gas money, plane fare. August in New Orleans. I kill a massive cockroach in the claw foot tub. Soaking in sweat, I learn to love cold showers. Several a day. Along with a box fan. It follows me from room to room. Momentary relief comes with afternoon monsoon rains. Before my sweat dries, leaf-clogged sewers flood. I crawl along in the steam at a torpid pace. Waiting an hour to cash a check. Waiting a week for electricity, phone service. Breaking down, I call my mom. Sob. Plead to come home. After she gives in, I decide I’ll stay.

late nights waiting tables
in the French Quarter
the smell of jazz

after lightning
I count the slow seconds
hurricane season

drowning in gin fizz
we move the car
to higher ground

I vow never to leave. To live off beignets and café au lait forever, life an endless Mardi Gras. After graduation, we all apply for the same job. An opening at the local bank. Only one of us gets it. With pending school loans, the lure of a real paycheck beckons. West, to the clean, steel skyscrapers of Dallas. Still Southern, but pale and limpid next to its Louisiana cousin.

early twilight
the last riverboat
departs without me

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