“Levee Lullaby” by Sarah Rolinski

You lay down on the hot summer sidewalk, New Orleans sun beating down on you. Nothing’s hotter than a New Orleans sun; it’s pure heat without mercy or remorse. You’re hot, sweating through your white shirt. It sticks to your chest. You feel the heat embracing you. You never liked warmth to touch your skin so you cover your eyes with your picnic blanket.

“Get some shade by the levee,” I say.

“No,” you say and turn on your side. The water is especially startled today, jumping at every bird that swoops over or every a cloud looms. You never liked the water until your uncle died. He gave you that boat, didn’t he? A nice one too. You’re obsessed now. You breathe salt water. You got a little sailboat too. I didn’t want to tell you, but I tore that little hole in the purple sail. I’ll pay you back one day. Darling… you know New Orleans isn’t the place for sailing.

“Go to Maine,” I say.

“No,” you say and go onto your back. You’re a nautical man. You’d live on the water if you could. The water is too dangerous of a place. I’m the only reason you’re sinking on land. You’ll drown… suffocate under winds… catch a cold and get pneumonia… something would catch you and have you as dinner.

“Lobster is good up there,” I say.

“I don’t fish. Let me sleep.” You used to always watch me sleep until the boat came along. You used to come home from work and sit for hours, just looking at me. You told me. Your mother told me, may she rest in peace. Cancer in her fifties. Cervical too. Shame. You watched your mother sleep once until the green mountains on the heart monitor became flatlands, and the room screeched. You then watched her sleep forevermore. You watched her sleep in the hospital, watched her sleep in her coffin, and watch her sleep underground. A nice long rest. She always needed one.

“Maine has good seas.”

“Maine is too far from here.”

“Maine has its own nature,” I say.

“Maine is dull. Louisiana isn’t,” you say and lie on your stomach. I left the east coast to live down here. Personally, I think it’s a rather dull place, but you say the nightlife is born after the sun goes to bed. One week a year, Mardi Gras week, is the only time I like to be around. Big parties and colors and parades passing by every minute. It’s the only time I can enjoy myself. Work gives you time off, and the people around you are elated to be there, a beer in one hand and a tangled mess of beads in the other. I can work myself up to it.

“Maine has the lighthouses,” I say.

“So does Louisiana. Maine cannot compare to Louisiana,” you say. You’re silent for a long time. Not even the water whispers. Your uncle left you that boat so you could go listen to the water talk. Talk. Not scream, not holler, not howl. Talk. And if it whispers, he said, stay still for it’s trying to tell you something. Listen, he said. You loved your uncle more than your own father. Your father still breathes and builds and your uncle is in some unknown place, whether it be oblivion or heaven. We spread his ashes on the water. Lake Pontchartrain swallowed them whole.

“He loved the water, so we buried him within it. Let him live under it,” your mother said. Her brother dead before she was. Her younger one, the baby, she said. Casual attire for a funeral like that. I wore an oversized sweater and brought an umbrella. The sky was darker than iron. Your uncle said if the sky cries, the people below will too. But he said storms were a sign of a sunny day, a brighter future. So he said to be grateful for rain and the dark clouds and the screaming sea because we’ll see a bright, bold sun and a vibrant blue. The rain got to us all. We were soaked to the bone, even under a sweater and a t-shirt. Your aunt’s tissues were drenched before they were used. One uncle left, and two aunts. Your aunt was already late, going seventy-seven on the causeway and got a ticket.

“Reminds me of him,” your mother said. They laughed. You laughed. I fell quiet. They read eulogies, how much he adored the water, and how he was never with his kids or his siblings because the boat was his family. He lived on the boat, told that thing everything, as if it were a real person. Umbrellas tried to hold up and the wind kept blowing them backwards, nearly off the levee and into the water.

“It’s a sign. God wants him in the water, and he wants him now,” your aunt said. The rain was too much. Your aunt brought the ashes in an Endymion bag, and the runoff water was starting to eat at the bottom of it. We were to all have a cold the next week because of the frigid air and our wet bones. We rushed under a raised house nearby. Lights weren’t on, garbage cans weren’t pulled to the curb. No cars were parked, and we stood under the house, hands intertwined, and lips stumbling over words.

“He was always Dad’s favorite. Dad used to make us all sit at the edge of the pool and watch our brother splash around and play because he learned his multiplication tables before us. We got so sunburn when we were kids because we sat out for so long. And after school, he’d bring us to Plum Street, and we’d get a big spearmint snowball and get six spoons and eat out of the same carton. Dad always let him have the most. But… our brother was not a cruel man. He wasn’t a cruel man because we never got the last bit of the spearmint snowball or because he got a new swimsuit every summer because the one before was sunbleached. He wasn’t a horrible father and wasn’t a terrible husband either.

He just loved the water more than he loved the earth. Sea was better than land. He was travel for weeks on that damn boat, which is now in the hands of Cal. Cal, I hope you cherish that gift he’s given you because if that was given to me, I would’ve destroyed it. It’s wrecked too many people’s lives and relationships.

“I never thought he was suffering like he expressed in his note. He always looked happy. He had three beautiful girls and a determined, amazing wife. He had a good job, and he had that damn boat to keep him company. So I never thought he was ever unhappy. He had his quirks and incidents. Like when we were driving home from Baton Rouge, and this guy got in front of us and cut us off and turned around in the middle of the road, and we had to throw this big rock of the window to get him to back off… Our brother had more spirit than could ever be riled up. He could never be tamed or calm enough to focus. That’s why he had miscellaneous jobs. The only thing he focused on was the fishing. He fished when he was on that boat. And I think he misses that. I think that’s what he’ll miss the most about this place. He loved us, but he’ll love the ocean more,” your mother folded up her now soggy paper and walked to the levee. They packaged his ashes in a mailing tube. The cap came off.

“One more thing,” your aunt dug in her back pocket, “When I came to pick up the ashes, the lady gave me this. It couldn’t be burned in the fire.” She raised a molar and held it in the palm of her hand.

“You keep that. I think you should stow that away,” your other aunt said. They shook out the ashes. Then the lake sucked them up. We all shook and cried and wiped eyes and the beige ash was poured onto the water. A man, a whole man, bones, muscle, eyes, hair, all of him was in a tube and onto the sea. Everything but that tooth was across the lake. You cried. You simply sobbed until we got back to the car.

“Pizza parlor is right down the street,” your aunt said. We were to meet her and the rest of the family for lunch. You were silent. You started the car and put the car in drive, but we were still. You leaned over the steering wheel and looked out the windshield, chin to the dashboard. You began to cry again, but not the loud sobs and gasps for air. You had single tears falling off your eyes.


“I want it to be quiet for a minute, can you manage that please?” you say. The sun was out and was violently hitting my eyes. It shone in yours. You continued to cry without a sound. I put the car in park, and you released your foot off the brake. Then you began to sob again, breathing in hard and fast, head in hands. You slammed your fist against the car door, running it in and again, harder and harder. You kicked by the pedals and gripped the steering wheels after some time of beating the car. You looked up from the floor, tear stains and swollen eyes and stared right into my eyes. He looked there for seconds on end, maybe minutes. You took a deep breath in. Your voice cracked when you spoke. The kind of crack that indicates there’s more than a little tear in your voice, one that starts the crying.

“He was sick… he was just a sick man…” you said.

“Yes, he was.”

“He loved New Orleans too much, he loved his boat, he loved his family, he loved me. When he found out we were getting married, he sailed for three weeks straight. Never came home. Never ate a full meal. When he came back, he ate and ate and bought so much art. He wanted to sail with me and take me fishing by himself. He said it was a mid-life crisis,” you said.

“He loved you too much,” I said.

“That’s why I have the boat. Instead of him,” you said and faced forward. Your knuckles were red and were going to be purple soon. You wiped under your eyes and put the car in drive. We ate, talked about car accidents with the family and that damn boat.

“The boat had a name, you know,” you said halfway through lunch.

“What was it?” your mother asked.

“Plessy,” you said.

Plessy is parked in the back of the marina now. We sailed this morning. We went crying and fishing and kissing this morning, after the sun broke the earth’s skin. We slept on the boat until our chests were sunburn. We crawled under the shade of the levees, and you’re asleep under one now. Carved into the side: Here Sawyer Woodman was spread.

“His name was Sawyer,” you said after the funeral, “And it was funny because his father was a lumberjack, and sawyer means to cut timber. But he took on a different meaning of it.”

“And what’s that?”

“Sawyer also means an uprooted tree, being forced down the river. And it’s a danger to sailing… So that’s what he is. A tree being taken from the earth and pushed down the water.”

“Let’s go to Maine,” I say.


“New Orleans is too much.” You sigh.

“You’re right. Too many sawyers.”

SarahRolinskiSarah Rolinski is entering her third year at the New Orleans Conservatory for the Creative Arts (NOCCA) with her primary study being Creative Writing. She writes short stories and plays as well as poetry. She currently resides in Covington, an hour away from New Orleans.