ON COMMUNITY

We're excited to share Sarah's gorgeous submission for our July Words Essay Contest "On Community." Every submission we received was truly special and we thank you for sending your words our way. Stay tuned for our next August Words Essay Contest. And if you have something that you'd like to submit in the meantime , please do! Loam loves hearing what you have to say.

WORDS: SARAH MININSOHN

IMAGE: WILL RUSSACK

notes from a month of moving in new orleans

 

Understand: Old English roots. Under, not meaning beneath, but meaning among, in the presence of. Stand as in placement. To place oneself in the presence of others. Togetherness. If understanding is a noun, a state of being (i.e. to come to an understanding), being together, being within community, then I don’t understand New Orleans. How could I? I say “See you all tomorrow” instead of “See y’all tomorrow,” and therefore I will never understand (n). If understanding is a verb, like loving, like dancing, a process, of standing closer, of moving closer, of actively trying to reach togetherness, then maybe I am understanding (v).

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The moment I set foot outside my doorframe, each inch of my skin sticks to itself. Sweat dodges my loose tank and drips down my ass as I complain to Emily over the phone as I stroll past colorful houses as I stumble over cracked sidewalks of my temporary home. The hot humidity I craved throughout a relentless New England winter meets me here in full blast, licking me, laughing at me, an annoying younger cousin that I love and miss but dear god you’ve grown in the time we’ve been apart.

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Sometimes I forget that I’m a thousand miles from home. Then I see palm trees and I’m like, oh, I’m in a city where one must travel uphill to reach the river.

 

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Dance: Old French and German roots. Origin is obscure. Danse, dansôn. To draw, to stretch out, to form a file or chain. To shift towards one. In the presence of one another, understanding, togetherness. Something buzzes between bodies in that studio, a nurturing magnetism, each laugh, each turn, each accidental collision, each butt shake. Its origin is obscure but I want to become it. Sweaty heaven.

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Man moves aside ladder, clearing sidewalk for me as I walk toward car. I smile and nod, meager implication of thanks from woman alert in poor neighborhood, woman instructed from early childhood never talk to strangers. As I walk on, his voice reaches me again. “Excuse me, miss.” I look back, ready to sprint in the opposite direction if need be. “Have yourself a wonderful day. Jesus blesses you.” I feel my head tilt, not at him, but at new norms, blessings, neighborhoods. The words “you too” escape my mouth, maybe a smile, I forget.

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Road potholes form in tropical climates when the lower layers of asphalt crack under the heat of the day. Water accumulates throughout weekly torrential rainstorms and percolates into roadway cracks. As water seeps into these cracks and the gravel below, it erodes this gravelly subsurface that crumbles, crumbling, air pockets form in crumble. Meanwhile, vehicles stress the top layer of asphalt, collapse. One point for nature, one loss for metropolis. Tropical battle wound.

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The pothole in front of my house is about three feet wide and one foot deep. Effective speed bump.

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The house on the right is sky blue with a thin layer of slime. Beside it grows an avocado tree. Girls sit on the sky blue porch next to the avocado tree and smoke cigarettes. I fear they can see me through my dining room window, sloppily eating fried eggs and drinking wine out of a water glass, eying their tempting, tempting avocado tree. Unripe green avocados hang like plastic, green Lego toys or Play-Doh. The kind of green you wouldn’t authorize edible if your taste buds didn’t already hold the memory of rich, sexy avocado. I sip wine from my water glass and plot theft.

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We stroll over a pond that curves around Audubon Park’s ritzy golf courses. The stone bridge that supports our weight is dressed in luscious ivy and the same layer of slime as most other structures in the city. As I feel the first raindrops, I anxiously wrap a sweater around my purse, but nobody else at the park seems to feel threatened. Middle aged white men in orange polo shirts duck into their golf caddies. We find shelter under a canopy of knotted oak and Spanish moss (think weird grandma tree from Pocahontas), but the majestic moss only protects us for so long. Within moments we surrender to the soaking wet of our t-shirts. Turtle saunters by. Majestic moss sways comfortably in the summer shower, familiar. Puddles on gravel boil and burst from the continuous impact of raindrops. Splashing large, splashing quiet. Across the sprawling park, the sprawling green, across patches of space where the rain hits harder or softer. Sprawling tropics.

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Afternoons on Independence Street, just lakeside of St. Claude, folks sit out on their colorful patios, bellowing back and forth from colorful patio to colorful patio. Kids run and bike on the asphalt, dashing out from behind parked cars. An occasional basketball rolls across the street. I drive slowly to avoid potholes and children, but also to soak up togetherness from the scene, even if only a droplet. I want it in my bloodstream.

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Never have I experienced a place where people in cars normally make conversation with beggars on street corners as they wait for traffic lights to turn green. Woman in new Mercedes hands beggar woman two fresh tomatoes from inside new Mercedes. Man inside white pickup truck labeled “Killer Service 504-386-BUGS” hands two bright green soda cans to man holding a sign reading “Iraq Vet-anything helps-GOD BLESS.” I point out this pattern to coworker. Coworker shrugs, “I usually put a few apples in my car to hand out to beggars.”

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The house on the left is gray with a thin layer of slime. Skinny middle-aged man with alarmingly light eyes talks to me as I rush off to work at 8 am. He means to be friendly yet sir I just want to get to work but I don’t want to be rude so yes I’ll look at your hibiscus plant thank you I will have a nice day if I get to work on time you too. Like many residents of this city, he tries to converse with strangers on the regular. This city brings out the mean northerner in me.

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Crawfish: crayfish, spiny lobster, typically boiled in Creole seasoning and eaten socially at picnics. Easier to eat than Maryland crabs, and just as spicy. Twist off head suck juice out of head squeeze tail until shell breaks take shell off of tail eat bite sized tail drink gallon of water.

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A breeze lifts the humidity off from my shoulders, warning me of the storm to come, taking care of me. The sky promptly darkens. Pedestrians stroll into a nearby grocery store to wait out the storm. As usual, I seem to be the only one in a hurry. The lighting is big here; each burst of zigzagged light expands itself across the entire sky without apology. The thunder is loud here. The thunder is really, really loud here. My hips tense.

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We sunbathe atop a levee, the closest ambiance to a beach we can find in the city. We sunbathe atop a levee, at a higher altitude than our house. Quick currents change form in sharp diagonal lines. Brown, murky, moving water geometry. Barges travel too slowly upriver like tropical swamp glaciers, forcing themselves against the current.

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The house two doors to the left is gray with a thin layer of slime and a blue tarp hanging across the front. It’s in the process of being refurbished. (to refurbish: to re- remove rust from, to restore, to brighten). Construction workers wave hello to me every morning. This morning they also shout, “It’s good to see you!” I smile to the humid universe as I wipe the first sweat of the day off my forehead. It’s good to see them, too.