Search & Rescue


I was always good at algebra—solve for X,
the teachers said. When the levees broke,
we used X to mark the living and the dead.

We aimed spray-paint at front doors—
or roofs, if all else had been swallowed—
then labeled each quadrant with ID, date, hazards,

and bodies found. An X on every house—that was
our goal. A decade on, I drive around the Lower 9th Ward
and see homes still graffitied with my orange scrawl.

Erin Murphy’s eighth book of poems, Human Resources, is forthcoming from Salmon Poetry. Her work has appeared in such journals as The Georgia Review, The Normal School, Field, Southern Humanities Review, North American Review, Southern Indiana Review, and Women’s Studies Quarterly. She is editor of three anthologies from the University of Nebraska Press and SUNY Press and serves as Poetry Editor of The Summerset Review. She is Professor of English and Creative Writing at Penn State Altoona. Website:

Image Credit: “Big Horn View,” C. R. Resetarits
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