Megan Burns

from Along the Batture

listen to me, listen
the water will take everything

the depth of water will swallow fear, cypress knees kneeling in vigils
for safety, untack reprieve, a whole community:
let the water come, take a deep breath
pack as though you will never return

in Butte La Rose among narrow creeks
Morgan City, listen: all that you see along the flood plain
shunting water along the batture
30 miles above New Orleans
the Morganza Spillway waits to move water
Melville, Knote Springs, Three Mile Lake
a hesco basket is a container filled with dirt
to build a temporary levee
listen to me, to water

when we say open
what we mean is break

when we say flood

                        there is the echo of removal
                        echo of disaster
                        echo of broken heart
                        and back of that
                        we still are here

oldest stories are flood stories
here is ours: it takes several lifetimes
                                                            to tell

once open, some doors do not close
            contents spilled
                        cannot be called back to first form

                        bowl of spilled tears

life’s life on the altar: whet blade
                                                swampy night

[these people]

                        come from a harder place

put your hand in the hand of

this too is a book of psalms

fields covered in sand

what you see: roots internal

what I am trying to say is a little water is all it takes
a city is a cup overturned
everything written after                       a repeating phrase

I was birdless in the empty state

I was toned down too soft for coming or going


a city lies in discovered crude
an all absorbing postmortem scene
a vessel dropped in the well

these end marks turn out to be little stars
I was trying to predict the outline
but they opened the spillway instead
what I am trying to say America
is that this barge sunk deep in the flow
is not enough
when part of a plan equals a newer hole
in the heart of the land
to be of swamp and despair
music spins above the tree line
pins pulled out to let a rush of invasive
thoughts through
homes of stick and stones in the flood path
my contingency of broken bones
whittled to a crescent
eclipsed facing off, instead
I hold this line, dearly
angled immolation

A note: "Along the Batture” is an excerpt from a long work about life along the Mississippi River and the Gulf. The batture refers to a strip of land along the lower Mississippi that sits between the river and the levee; it's a place where a small community of residents live on houses built on stilts and where they are exposed to the potential flooding that occurs in the river in the spring. This poem meditates on the potential dangers as well as joy that the river brings to a community and conversely, the dangers that humanity brings to the river. Chronologically, the poem arcs around the anniversary of the BP Oil Disaster one year anniversary as well as the 2011 spring floods and the 2011 Hurricane season.