“Dis here Memphis
It may go;
Floods may drown it;
Sterling A. Brown, “Memphis Blues”
Susie knew how to get her FEMA check.
She’d already called the hotline the day after the flood
before we brought over the Shop-Vac and got the fans going.
Her grandkids were upstairs:
Derek on the couch with his PSP, the toddlers scooting
toy trucks around their playpen.
In the basement, she had my brother take pictures of the busted pipes and drywall
and she checked each one to make sure he’d caught the cracks just right
so the drywall looked like a melon wrinkled rotten.
She printed the photos at Walgreens
packaged them with assessments and affidavits
and mailed them First Class.
My mother worried about the mold
and insisted on taking care of Susie’s new carpet and curtains
until the check came in.
Meanwhile, Susie still came in through the back door in the mornings
and heated up the last splash of coffee in the microwave
before she got to work.
She washed our sheets
and ironed creases down the legs of my blue jeans
while watching Days of Our Lives.
She carried our laundry up the stairs,
nursed her arthritis,
and hummed along to the gospel station.
Sitting with her as she folded clothes,
I tried not to love the harmonies crying out to Jesus Christ!
whose followers, I’d heard, considered me
unredeemed for overlooking the First Coming.
Jesus was the only figure
whose roots ran under the whole city.
They praised him in the bus depot and in the antebellum plantation homes
and their songs for him came out of the old radio
like earth out of muddy water,
as if his trees rose up with the help of a squinting old woman
pumping the organ pedals
shaking her head in time
and getting up at the end of the song to stand on the land arisen
only there’s no land, just a pulpit and a man
and a sea of women standing out in front of him, holding hands.