A Note from the Editor
The launch of this Boudin mini-issue focusing on football was supposed to coincide with the start of football season. That was the plan when I conceived of the mini-issue at last year’s AWP conference in San Antonio (way back in the early days of the pandemic). That was the plan all through the late spring and summer as we opened for submissions and read work. And that was the plan when we accepted poems and stories and essays from the twenty amazing writers whose work you’ll find in these virtual pages.
And then Hurricane Laura happened. And Delta after that.
People who’ve lived through hurricanes and who have existed in the spaces where hurricanes have come through will tell you many things. One of those things is the way it feels to look out from a familiar spot like a front porch or the edge of your street and notice that when more than three quarters of the trees are gone, even if the buildings are standing, the place becomes unrecognizable.
They’ll tell you about the way gas and food and ice become scarce, about how long the lines for those things can be in the hours and days and even weeks after, about how even when those things are given out for free by the government or private organizations, they still run out before everyone who needs them can get them.
And they’ll tell you about the sea of blue tarps, how you can look out across your city and see that blue (the color, I keep thinking, of Boise State’s football field) on nearly every roof.
What they don’t tell you is how, months later, threads of those blue tarps will cover everything. You can find little wisps of that blue nestled between every other blade of grass, lining the gutters, hidden against the blacktop. Even when the tarps are taken down and the roofs are finally repaired, those threads linger, like a hair caught at the back of your throat.
In a rental house on California Trail in Lake Charles, I watched the 2010 Ole Miss season opener with my infant daughter in my lap. Ole Miss was coming off back-to-back nine win seasons, back-to-back Cotton Bowl wins, and they were opening the season against FCS Jacksonville State. A nice warm up game for our new transfer quarterback, Jeremiah Masoli. Erin and I settled in, each of us with a bottle, and we watched as Houston Nutt’s Ole Miss team gradually and painfully lost to Jacksonville State that Saturday. Back then, I was a hat thrower, but that day, I held Erin, smiled and batted my eyes at her while muttering my curses.
That rental house didn’t lose its roof. I drove by weeks after the storm, and it seemed to be doing fine.
After the storm, a friend, a veteran on disability, cleared his street of trees, coordinating the removal so that his neighbors could get to their damaged homes. A stranger on a Facebook page for Laura refugees offered free plates of food cooked on her gas grill to as many people as could take them. My next door neighbor, a man I spoke to one time in nearly six years, checked in on us several times a day, offering water and food and aid. Strangers gave strangers gas cans at nearly every place where people gathered.
And the linemen, lord the linemen. The up-the-power-pole kind, not the three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust kind. They came from distant states and waded through literal swamps, worked without air conditioning, slept in their trucks, got absolutely eaten alive by mosquitos, and all so that the timeline for restoring power to the city went from two months down to just one. They replaced the entire system of poles and wires for hundreds of square miles, working hours I cannot imagine in heat I experienced and do not wish on any of you. I don’t know how much Entergy and other companies gave them in emergency pay, but I assure you, it was not enough.
Ole Miss beat Alabama for the first time in a decade on October 4, 2014. As the final seconds ticked off the clock, I danced in the living room of our second-floor apartment on Canal St. with Erin and Ann. There is video somewhere of me, pacing in the fourth quarter, explaining to four-year-old Erin, who paces with me, what we need to have happen for the impossible to come true. About two weeks later, we moved out of that apartment and into the house we’d call home until this fall.
The apartment is caved in, collapsed so that only parts of the first floor remain. When I went by, you could see someone’s possessions – clothes, furniture, toys – amid the crumbled cinderblocks.
There are so many generous people who help financially when disasters hit. I want to use at least some of the space in this introduction to thank the many people in the larger literary community who donated to a GoFundMe set up for the MFA students at McNeese. Many of them lost their homes. All were displaced and many remain so. Direct monetary contributions are the single best way to support people who have experienced a disaster this extreme once immediate survival needs have been met.
But even with money, trauma doesn’t get erased, and in the case of hurricanes, particularly ones of the magnitude that hit Lake Charles this fall, it is going to take a very long time and a lot of money to recover. People talk a lot about the scars of storms lasting for years, and that’s true. But right now, southwest Louisiana is an open wound. It still needs an awful lot of help to get to a point where it can begin to scar over.
The last football game I watched in our house was the Super Bowl, but the last football game I cared about in our house was the Saints’ playoff loss to the Vikings. It was another in a string of heartbreaking post-season losses for New Orleans. I don’t remember much about the game now, aside from disappointment. Brees is clearly in decline, and the window for another championship is dwindling away to almost nothing, but enough hope remains that when the boys don’t get it done, it breaks my heart a little.
That was the last game I cared about in that house, but there were many others during the 6 years we lived there. Ole Miss’s Sugar Bowl victory, which featured tackle Laremy Tunsil scoring a beautiful touchdown against Oklahoma State. Several great Saints wins over the Falcons. A masterful Egg Bowl performance by Ole Miss in 2015, disappointing Dak Prescott on his Senior Day in Starkville. Thanksgiving games with my Cowboys-loving father-in-law, who passed away a few years ago. I danced with my family there, too, and we shouted and hollered and threw our hats and clapped our hands and said “Hotty Toddy” and “Who Dat?” and “get a hit, dammit” and “that’s a catch” and many other things. I held my youngest daughter in my arms as Ole Miss lost to Texas A&M just days after she was born.
We evacuated to Shreveport at the last minute. We’d planned to ride the storm out at my mother’s house, around the corner and on higher ground, but when Laura intensified, we all left. We watched from a family friend’s home as the storm bore down on our city.
The day after, with no word on our house or my mother’s, Ann and I drove down. My mother’s house made it through okay. Ours didn’t. We were able to salvage many things in the next week. We worked long hours to pack the belongings that weren’t damaged, to load them in boxes and eventually into a U-Haul, which we, sweaty and exhausted, drove to a storage unit in Shreveport almost a week after the storm made landfall. The next morning, we left for Illinois to stay with Ann’s family. On the long drive up, my daughters sleeping in the backseat, I listened to podcasts about Ole Miss and the Saints, the NFL and the SEC.
Hurricane Delta would hit a little more than a month later, making landfall only miles from where Laura did in Cameron Parish just south of Lake Charles. Unlike Laura, where high winds were the biggest issue, Delta caused widespread flooding in the area. Homes that were already battered took on water. Tarps were ripped free and more damage was done. Delta wasn’t as strong as Laura. But a small hurricane a month after the strongest in more than a century is still a brutal thing for a place to endure.
There was a stat floating around a few years ago that showed how teams in the SEC who faced Alabama would often underperform the next week, as well. The general wisdom was that Alabama beat you up so badly that even if the next opponent wasn’t that strong, you’d still get beaten up some more. I’ve been thinking about that a lot with Laura and Delta.
In our original publication schedule, this issue would have arrived on September 1. I wanted it to come out then, right as the season began. Debates were raging about whether football should be played at all in the middle of a pandemic. The B1G had canceled its season. The SEC was delaying. But the NFL was about to start. I wanted this issue to come during that stretch because the writers whose work you’ll read here are voices that should be heard as we weigh the merits of continuing to play and watch this game during this of all seasons. They paint pictures we should consider as fans and players and coaches and critics and casual passersby who do not particularly care about the sport one way or the other.
My original plan for this introduction was a grand defense of football’s place in the literary landscape, of the elements of its very nature and of the systems that surround it that make it ripe for literary rendering. But then the hurricanes happened, and now, a little more than three months later, I don’t want to defend anything. I love football even when I hate football, and I love to read about football, particularly when the writing is from a person who looks at the game in a way I haven’t considered.
There are pieces here about playing the sport, about the way coaches can make you feel and the way teammates can lift you up or drag you down. There are pieces about race. There are pieces about pain and injury. There are pieces about strategy and approach. There are pieces about fandom and complicity and joy. There are pieces about disappointment and struggle and solitude and togetherness.
None of the poems or stories or essays in this issue are ultimately about football in the same way that this introduction isn’t ultimately about a couple of hurricanes hitting a single city. Though, of course, the pieces are, in fact, all about football, and this introduction is, in fact, all about a couple of hurricanes hitting a single city. The thing I love about metaphor is that both sides can work independently.
The first football game I watched this season was the Saints’ 34-23 win over the Buccaneers. I watched it in the house where we’re staying with Ann’s family, and I wore my Saints hat and my Saints shirt and my Saints hoodie, and I tried to teach Kara how to say “Who Dat?” She didn’t get it that day, but she has since, and lately, she’s taken to stomping around the house trying to sing “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
That Sunday, we cheered for Brees and Kamara, we bad-mouthed Tom Brady, and we clapped and hollered, and I cooked something too spicy for others in the house, and I drank a few beers, and in the end, we won. Those hours during the game were the most normal waking moments I’d felt since the week before the storm. Reading the pieces in this issue as we finished putting it together gave me that same feeling of normalcy and joy. I hope that you – wherever you are and whatever you’re dealing with in this rough, rough year – find that in them, too.
Written deep in Bears Country