Wednesday, September 21, 2005

A Thousand Saxophones by Lee Herrick

A Thousand Saxophones

After Hurricane Katrina — A Poem for the Living and the Dead

You can live by the water and still die of thirst.
I said you can live by the water and still die of thirst
or the worst nightmare come true:
that body of water taking over the bodies.
Sometime, tonight, see which echoes most—
a whisper or a scream. Make it something beautiful,
like, we will endure or Yes, I love you. Sometime,
tonight, think of water—how it purifies or terrifies,
cleanses, gives and takes away—think how fast
some things can rise—water, fear, the intensity of a prayer.
Officials in New Orleans said they want to save the living.
I hope they do. But I hope they can also honor the dead.
On Bourbon Street, there were over 3,000 musicians employed
on any given day. Last night, before I fell asleep,
I imagined what a thousand saxophones
would sound like if they all played together—
one thousand saxophones, different songs,
different tempos, Dixieland, Miles Davis.
Maybe it would sound like birds or bombs,
planes or preachers praising the Word
on a hot Sunday and the congregation saying Amen,
some people whispering it, some people screaming it.
Maybe it would sound like lightning tearing
open the sky or a thousand books slammed shut after
a horrible conclusion, or a thousand children crying for their
mothers or fathers. Last night, I thought, how far
would a thousand saxophones echo from New Orleans or Biloxi?
Would we hear them in Fresno? Could we imagine the sound?
Could Baton Rouge? Could Washington D.C.?
I don’t know what I should tell you.
But I feel like the saints are marching.
They are singing a slow, deep, and beautiful song,
waiting for us to join in.


Lorna Dee Cervantes said...

Great poem!

Pris said...

I commented on cafecafe. This is fantastic, Lee. Simply fantastic! Look at the comments on cafecafe. Lorna and I both have the same request.

Michael Parker said...

Lee, this is a most exceptional poem! I saw it over on Pris' site, commented on it, and had to fly over here as quickly as possible to leave a comment here as well.

You know, this deserves a pushcart prize, in my humble opinion. Excellent work!

Hellicane said...

Very nice work. Would you consider posting it at Hellicane: poems by, for & about those afected by Hurricane Katrina?

Pris said...

I saw Michael's comment on my blog and wanted to ditto Michael's comment. I hope you submit this to a pushcart nominating journal. This poem deserves a shot at it. I'm still reading and rereading it. As I commented to Michael, not just the subject's the entirety of the poem that's so very very good.

Anonymous said...

Well done! Very nice poem! I like it.

mor chang said...


this is a very nice poem. Love it!

Lee Herrick said...

Thanks, ya'll. Seriously. I'm glad you like(d) the poem.

Michael, I hope to find it a good home. Thanks for your kudos about it deserving a prize. It's humbling.

Patty said...


Thank you for posting this.

Artichoke Heart said...

Very well done, Lee!

Amy Uyematsu said...

So important - so well and beautifully said/sung! Thanks, Lee. I hope "A Thousand Saxophones" gets heard/passed along to the thousands whose voices need to be heard.

Lee Herrick said...

Patty, Lee Ann, Amy:

Many thanks, muuuchas gracias, xie xie! (I'm practicing my Mandarin in my spare time...forgive that weird sentence).

I'm still disturbed about all things Katrina, but at least we have poetry to lean on. Thanks for your nice comments.

Nicole said...

Really great work. I also really liked "APR Poetica." Awesome poem. Really made me think.

Jennifer said...

Mr. Herrick, I really like this poem. The whole situation was so upsetting and your poem needs a larger auidence.

Eugune Kim said...

Hello, Lee. It's incredible. It reminded me the controversial book, "After 9/11: A Korean Girl's Sexual Journey" Look closer? I strongly believe that you will have something to say about it, and especailly "Korean American" and "Dokdo's America life" in chapter 32.

Most amazing thing is chapter 43, "9/11s are forgiveness," which makes "9/11" a general noun for the worst disaster that could happen in one's life. I have never seen any writer put it this way.

Good luck,

Christina Clement said...

Mr. Herrick, this poem just made me say "wow," jaw to the floor and all. It's amazing. I just have this overwhelming need to say "thank you."

Lee Herrick said...

Thank you, everyone, for your really nice comments on this poem. It has received such warmth, and I'm grateful. Needless to say the event affected us all.

I wanted to post/mention that the poem will be published in an anthology (Southeast Missouri State University Press) in Fall 2006 called Hurricane Blues: How Katrina and Rita Ravaged a Nation.

Come fall, check out their website or check back in on my blog and order a copy. Proceeds will go to survivors.