News Poetry: The way they held each other

The way they held each other


in rows of cots and mattresses
on the floor of cavernous arenas,
the way an old man rested his gnarled hand
on his wife’s hip in exhausted sleep
or a father’s muscled arm
curved round his infant son, both asleep,
or a mother though slumped
in a haze of sleep cradled her baby
to her breast.

The way those coastal boatmen,
the Cajun Navy, others, people
without any group, came,
remembering Katrina, knowing bayou
country, knowing floods,
came without being asked
and shrugged at the reporter’s question
as if to say, isn’t that obvious?
We’re here to save people,
couldn’t have done anything else.

The way the bakers trapped by flood
in their pandería baked bolillos and pan dulce
all night because they could, they had power
and knew people would be hungry in the morning.
The way an elderly husband stood in rising water
in his dark kitchen, with a flashlight finding
the medication his wife needed before
climbing into a boat.

The way the Afghan Cultural Center fed people,
and mosques and churches opened their doors,
the way the mayor sent out messages in Farsi, Spanish,
Vietnamese, Hindi, Tagalog as well as English
because Houston is our most diverse city,
showing us what all America will be by 2050.
The way three-year-old Jordyn held onto her mother’s body
until someone lifted her to safety.
Momma was saying her prayers, she said.

The FEMA and local law enforcement and National Guard
rescue specialists, working all night, all day,
focused mission faces wading through chest-high water
to reach a child on a porch roof,
drawn faces later, wolfing down a sandwich
where they stood, falling asleep where they sat
in a pontoon.
Furniture stores opened for people to sleep,
bowling alleys and businesses became
shelters and staging locations.

And a photographer caught a group of people
seeing the sun appear for the first time since
the storm arrived five days ago, their lifted faces
gilded, their arms raised,
hands outstretched or pointing:
look, look, we are still here and a new day dawns.

The way hope is forever reborn,
the way they held each other,
the way the people of Houston held each other.

Flickr photo credit: Verónica G. Cárdenas/Chabad

Patricia Dubrava chaired the creative writing program at Denver School of the Arts, where she also taught Spanish. She has two books of poems and one of stories translated from the Spanish. Recent translation publications include fiction by Agustín Cadena in Café Irreal, 2013 – 2015 and Mexico City Lit, 2016. Another Cadena flash fiction appears in Flash in the Attic 2, Fall, 2016. Her translation of a Mónica Lavín flash fiction appeared in Norton’s Flash Fiction International, 2015. Dubrava blogs at


  1. Thanks for publishing this evocative poem, powerful and moving without being sentimental. And thanks to the Colorado Independent for maintaining the News Poetry column.

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