Broken Pipes and Water Boils: Snolapocalypse; or, Winter in South Louisiana

We had unexpected time off last week when a winter storm brought sustained freezing temperatures, ice, and even snow to South Louisiana. As soon as LSU announced its closure on Tuesday afternoon (it remained closed until Saturday), I jumped on I-10 so as to get home to New Orleans, to my daughter.

The temperature on my dashboard read 27 degrees, and sometimes a sheet of ice would slide down from the car’s roof and across my windshield. I made it home just before the spillway bridge—and much of South Louisiana’s interstate system, a lot of which is made up of bridges—shut down due to ice on the road. Living in a 115-year-old wooden house built three feet off the ground (pretty much like everyone in the city), means taking precautions: we wrapped the pipes, ran the water from the tap farthest from the point of entry into the house, opened the water cabinets so the heat from the house would help warm the pipes, covered the plants, closed the shutters, stuffed towels around the base of the doors, and bundled up. No matter what, I was grateful to be inside and worried about those who were not, as well as those who had no electricity due to power outages during the freeze. It was unbearably cold and damp.

In the light of the next morning we could see that there was ice and snow! My daughter was beaming with excitement on her walk through the neighborhood. Everyone was posting photos of the rare snow day and calling it Sneauxday or Snolapocalypse or some other clever pun. It was fun, even if it was ridiculously cold and weird things were happening with the water. By weird, I mean my house was doing fine, sort of; I had only hot water in the kitchen and the toilet wouldn’t refill, but the rest of the house was normal. My ex-husband’s house had only cold water and only in the bathroom sink. Other friends also had only cold water and from random faucets. Then my outside pipe burst, and I had no water at all. Fortunately, a neighbor, who was out of town, left keys so that we could use the bathroom there. Then because of all the broken pipes and people running water trying to prevent broken pipes, the city’s water pressure dropped, and we had yet another boil water alert in New Orleans (we have these much more often than you’d expect). The water, if you had it, was not safe to drink, wash dishes, bathe children in, and so forth. Snolapocalypse, indeed.

Yet while all of this was happening in our small part of the world, the winter issue of The Southern Review was released, and what a beautiful—and wintry—issue it is. The evocative landscapes and sculptures of German artist Sibylle Peretti—cast glass installations that celebrate, among other things, the flora and fauna of the winter world—adorn the cover and are the featured visual art this season. It’s a gorgeous invitation to peek inside, where Jill Osier’s visceral poems, “Blood,” “February,” and “Refuge,” portraits of winter in Alaska, open the journal. Daryl Jones, making his first appearance in the journal, has two terrific poems: “The Bandwidth of Beauty,” in which the speaker recalls his mother’s love of listening to opera on a pink Philco radio on Saturday afternoons while she cleaned house; and “Deer on the Ice,” a recollection of painfully watching deer that had fallen through ice slowly drown, one “just a snout / circling low in the opening of black water, / a spindly foreleg desperately reaching out.”

Stretching across to other areas of the world, Susan Wicks’s poem “The Romance of Steam” gives a glimpse of England, where the speaker muses that “there’s something about the steam, / the way it swells and rolls below the tracks / and spreads across a winter valley / to disperse.” I imagine this steam is absorbed by the clouds and travels the world, only to return to the ground somewhere else as rain or ice or even snow. Another text set outside the U.S. is Lailee Mendelson’s story about American students in St. Petersburg in 1992, “So, the Cold War Is Over,” which is also featured in our audio gallery this season.

The audio gallery also includes Michael Downs reading from his funny and heartfelt essay about a neighbor, “Jim at 2 am: Something like Opera.” Poets featured are David Bottoms with his poem “Foul Ball,” a look back at being a kid chasing foul balls before they reached the polluted Etowah River so as to trade them with the ballpark for free ice cream; Kai Carlson-Wee reading “Pike,” in which an elderly dying woman recalls fishing as a young girl with her father; and Chris Haven, whose charming poem, “The Second Pig,” considers the fairy tale “The Three Little Pigs” from the perspective of the middle sibling. The poem ends with the acknowledgement that “I am just a pig . . . This is the best I can do.” It’s a sentiment with which many of us may identify. I certainly do, especially when I wrap my house made of sticks and plastic in foam and fabric, and hope for the best against the wolf of winter and water. May the annual appearance next week of that other animal, the personable Punxsutawney Phil, herald an early spring.

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