Left by Nikky Finney winner of The National Book Award

 

Photo of Nikky Finney

Photograph by Rachel Eliza Griffiths

Left

 

by Nikky Finney

 

   Eenee Menee Mainee Mo!

       —Rudyard Kipling, "A Counting-Out Song,"

in Land and Sea Tales for Scouts and Guides, 1923

 

           The woman with cheerleading legs

has been left for dead. She hot paces a roof,

four days, three nights, her leaping fingers,

helium arms rise & fall, pulling at the week-

old baby in the bassinet, pointing to the eighty-

two-year-old grandmother, fanning & raspy

in the New Orleans Saints folding chair.

 

                      Eenee Menee Mainee Mo!

 

           Three times a day the helicopter flies

by in a low crawl. The grandmother insists on

not being helpless, so she waves a white hand-

kerchief that she puts on and takes off her head

toward the cameraman and the pilot who

remembers well the art of his mirrored-eyed

posture in his low-flying helicopter: Bong Son,

Dong Ha, Pleiku, Chu Lai. He makes a slow

Vietcong dip & dive, a move known in Rescue

as the Observation Pass.

 

           The roof is surrounded by broken-levee

water. The people are dark but not broken. Starv-

ing, abandoned, dehydrated, brown & cumulous,

but not broken. The four-hundred-year-old

anniversary of observation begins, again—

 

                      Eenee Menee Mainee Mo!

                      Catch a—

 

The woman with pom-pom legs waves

her uneven homemade sign:

 

                      Pleas Help   &hbsp;  Pleas

 

and even if the e has been left off the Pleas e

 

do you know simply

by looking at her

that it has been left off

because she can't spell

(and therefore is not worth saving)

or was it because the water was rising so fast

there wasn't time?

 

                      Eenee Menee Mainee Mo!

                      Catch a— a—

 

           The low-flying helicopter does not know

the answer. It catches all this on patriotic tape,

but does not land, and does not drop dictionary,

or ladder.

 

           Regulations require an e be at the end

of any Pleas e before any national response

can be taken.

 

           Therefore, it takes four days before

the national council of observers will consider

dropping one bottle of water, or one case

of dehydrated baby formula, on the roof

where the e has rolled off into the flood,

 

                      (but obviously not splashed

loud enough)

 

where four days later not the mother,

not the baby girl,

but the determined hanky waver,

whom they were both named for,

(and after) has now been covered up

with a green plastic window awning,

pushed over to the side

right where the missing e was last seen.

 

                      My mother said to pick

                      The very best one!

 

What else would you call it,

Mr. Every-Child-Left-Behind.

 

Anyone you know

ever left off or put on

an e by mistake?

 

Potato   Po tato e

 

           In the future observation helicopters

will leave the well-observed South and fly

in Kanye-West-Was-Finally-Right formation.

They will arrive over burning San Diego.

 

           The fires there will be put out so well.

The people there will wait in a civilized manner.

And they will receive foie gras and free massage

for all their trouble, while there houses don't

flood, but instead burn calmly to the ground.

 

The grandmothers were right

about everything.

 

           People who outlived bullwhips & Bull

Connor, historically afraid of water and routinely

fed to crocodiles, left in the sun on the sticky tar-

heat of roofs to roast like pigs, surrounded by

forty feet of churning water, in the summer

of 2005, while the richest country in the world

played the old observation game, studied

the situation: wondered by committee what to do;

counted, in private, by long historical division;

speculated whether or not some people are surely

born ready, accustomed to flood, famine, fear.

 

                      My mother said to pick

                      The very best one

                      And you are not   it!

 

           After all, it was only po' New Orleans,

old bastard city of funny spellers. Nonswimmers

with squeeze-box accordion accents. Who would

be left alive to care?

 

 

 

◄ Tongue

Octopus Ink ►

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