The title of Phyllis Montana-Leblanc's Not Just the Levees Broke is derived from Spike Lee's documentary about Katrina. A poem Montana-Leblanc had written the night before Lee paid her a final visit in her FEMA trailer gave him the ending to his work; and he, in turn, was the impetus for her book. Though her language is, for the most part, plain and repertorial (and at times appropriately profane), we see Montana-Leblanc's lyric gifts in the first pages' description of Katrina's clouds, "dark gray, light gray, white, and almost black. . . . They're all separated, as if they know once they connect all hell will break loose." Montana-Leblanc's nightmarish tale fulfills the prophecy in those clouds.
The evacuation order comes too late from Mayor Ray Nagin. One by one, the floors of the apartment complex where Montana-Leblanc, her husband and other members of her family have taken shelter are torn off by the wind. Debris flies outside, projectiles of death. Her family is split up, first by the storm, then by officials. For eight days, Montana-Leblanc and her husband trudge, nearly sleepless, soaked in foul water and mostly without food, from dry spot to dry spot, waiting in line after line after line, until they are airlifted to San Antonio. The racism that was all too evident on big-screen TV - one of LeBlanc's chapter headings recalls the prevention of the Red Cross from entering the state while military forces were marshaled, officials fearing rioting blacks more than being concerned with helping people - is microcosmically revealed when she realizes that Cheetos are being given only to white people in one feeding station.
Montana-Leblanc's story may not be the best-written account of Hurricane Katrina, but it is surely among the most harrowing and enraging.
Diann Blakely's third poetry collection, Cities of Flesh and the Dead, to be published this fall by Elixir Press, takes its title from a work set in New Orleans.