The dead are learning to float.
Even the ones who never dared wade ankle-deep.
They are surprised at the water's welcome.
They are drinking the water, too, for the first time in days.
They drink as if they have crossed a desert
before thirst invented mirages.
Some have forgotten their pills, and loose change, rubber soled shoes.
Some have come back night after night for sad-eyed dogs and children.
Others are gone for good, knowing if time really healed,
it would ship them back to days when they still existed in mirrors.
All the streetlights are out, and the houses are slipping darkly
beyond the moon's long fingers. The dead are beginning to hum;
snakes swim up in sudden warmth, caress their leaden throats,
new islands mat and bloat with things forgotten and useless:
rats and toys, silvery fish that have no names
and blankets wrapping silence. Rest here, the islands murmur
with mindless rhythm. The dead swell with grateful tears:
never have they been treated with such respect.
But they must decline, they are getting to know the water,
its melancholy cocktail of absences. They watch as the living
are plucked from trees and rooftops, as fires haunt the skyline.
What do they know of storms not yet born,
of a fetus curled up in a wave offshore
struggling to open one angry eye?
Afraid of nothing, the dead are learning to float.
The living bear down at last with nets and hooks and masks
but the dead drift on, loving the water, meeting old friends.
For the first time they hear their names.
Inspired by Hurricane Katrina's devastation of New Orleans.