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Eleven (for another Katrina anniversary)

By Justin Barisich

“Tis but an hour ago since it was nine,
And after one hour more ’twill be eleven;
And so, from hour to hour, we ripe and ripe,
And then, from hour to hour, we rot and rot;
And thereby hangs a tale.”
– William Shakespeare, from As You Like It

I

No one remembers 11 –
the age, the person, the anniversary.
It’s come just after ten, a big one,
a milestone for which we
sing the best songs,
light every last candle in the house.

But this year,
we visit the grave sites in silence.
They always forget this one,
like they’ve forgotten the little towns in between,
the homes still untouched after decade.

So – what’s one more year anyhow?

II

I don’t want to remember my 11th year –
when grandmother died,
when I wrote my first poem,
when I read it at her wake.
I showed the grownups in my family
how wise a child could be.
I siphoned my sadness into art,
masked it – like an adult –
too unsure of which way
half-grown boys should cry.

III

Nine months from now,
faded friends from high school
will start celebrating the 11th birthdays
of their storm-born children.
The ones brought to life by boredom,
loneliness, and all-consuming loss.

Rather than filling themselves in
with patchwork concrete,
they chose to pour a new road instead,
one they still dream of riding out
far from wherever this has now become.

IV

May you remember like a child:
the gulf’s bastard breathes in 11 today,
and we’re still trying to wipe away
her flood lines marking our sinking houses,
still sanding down and painting over
damage we’ve buried so deep
that it’ll never rise to the surface,
no matter the number of years
we let slip away unspoken.