Eenee Menee Mainee Mo!
       —Rudyard Kipling, "A Counting-Out Song,"
in Land and Sea Tales for Scouts and Guides, 1923
           The woman with cheerleading legs
has been left for dead. She hot paces a roof,
four days, three nights, her leaping fingers,
helium arms rise & fall, pulling at the week-
old baby in the bassinet, pointing to the eighty-
two-year-old grandmother, fanning & raspy
in the New Orleans Saints folding chair.
                      Eenee Menee Mainee Mo!
           Three times a day the helicopter flies
by in a low crawl. The grandmother insists on
not being helpless, so she waves a white hand-
kerchief that she puts on and takes off her head
toward the cameraman and the pilot who
remembers well the art of his mirrored-eyed
posture in his low-flying helicopter: Bong Son,
Dong Ha, Pleiku, Chu Lai. He makes a slow
Vietcong dip & dive, a move known in Rescue
as the Observation Pass.
           The roof is surrounded by broken-levee
water. The people are dark but not broken. Starv-
ing, abandoned, dehydrated, brown & cumulous,
but not broken. The four-hundred-year-old
anniversary of observation begins, again—
                      Eenee Menee Mainee Mo!
                      Catch a—
The woman with pom-pom legs waves
her uneven homemade sign:
                      Pleas Help   &hbsp;  Pleas
and even if the e has been left off the Pleas e
do you know simply
by looking at her
that it has been left off
because she can't spell
(and therefore is not worth saving)
or was it because the water was rising so fast
there wasn't time?
                      Eenee Menee Mainee Mo!
                      Catch a— a—
           The low-flying helicopter does not know
the answer. It catches all this on patriotic tape,
but does not land, and does not drop dictionary,
or ladder.
           Regulations require an e be at the end
of any Pleas e before any national response
can be taken.
           Therefore, it takes four days before
the national council of observers will consider
dropping one bottle of water, or one case
of dehydrated baby formula, on the roof
where the e has rolled off into the flood,
                      (but obviously not splashed
loud enough)
where four days later not the mother,
not the baby girl,
but the determined hanky waver,
whom they were both named for,
(and after) has now been covered up
with a green plastic window awning,
pushed over to the side
right where the missing e was last seen.
                      My mother said to pick
                      The very best one!
What else would you call it,
Mr. Every-Child-Left-Behind.
Anyone you know
ever left off or put on
an e by mistake?
Potato   Po tato e
           In the future observation helicopters
will leave the well-observed South and fly
in Kanye-West-Was-Finally-Right formation.
They will arrive over burning San Diego.
           The fires there will be put out so well.
The people there will wait in a civilized manner.
And they will receive foie gras and free massage
for all their trouble, while there houses don't
flood, but instead burn calmly to the ground.
The grandmothers were right
about everything.
           People who outlived bullwhips & Bull
Connor, historically afraid of water and routinely
fed to crocodiles, left in the sun on the sticky tar-
heat of roofs to roast like pigs, surrounded by
forty feet of churning water, in the summer
of 2005, while the richest country in the world
played the old observation game, studied
the situation: wondered by committee what to do;
counted, in private, by long historical division;
speculated whether or not some people are surely
born ready, accustomed to flood, famine, fear.
                      My mother said to pick
                      The very best one
                      And you are not   it!
           After all, it was only po' New Orleans,
old bastard city of funny spellers. Nonswimmers
with squeeze-box accordion accents. Who would
be left alive to care?
 
From Head Off & Split: Poems, published by Triquarterly Books. Copyright © 2011 Nikky Finney. Used by permission of the publisher.

Poems by This Author

Cattails by Nikky Finney
One woman drives across five states just to see her
Heirloom by Nikky Finney
Sundown, the day nearly eaten away
The Condoleezza Suite [Excerpt] by Nikky Finney
Condoleezza rises at four


Further Reading

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by Lucille Clifton
My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun (Sonnet 130)
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by Frank O'Hara
Seal Lullaby
by Rudyard Kipling