A managed retreat: New Orleans

Adam R. Burnett
3 min readApr 30, 2021


I came to know my brother for the first time as an adult on a drunken weekend in New Orleans. I returned three winters later in the fall, living in St. Claude for a handful of weeks in a furnished school bus in the backyard of a retired circus performer named Otter.

New Orleans maintains the traditional concept of home, one that is forever unmoored, sinking, rising, sometimes out to sea — somewhere between the loins and solar plexus — constructed on trust not permanency.

Tripping over ghost bodies broken on every block, passing every shotgun house feeling every last blast of history pouring thickly out of bright doors, winded at every corner from the wave of pedestrian lesson in this nation’s seat. Sixteen years after Katrina boats leaking fuel carried 50 miles inland remain unmoved as industry recapitulates.

How to cease the ambition, the drive to accumulate and remain at home by which I mean to adjust and return to migration.

As the Rocky Mountains rise, they erode across the prairies of Kansas, over tallgrass flint hills the mountains are carried by wind, bit by bit toward the Mississippi River. The Rocky Mountains in the Mississippi River flow through Louisiana and out into the Gulf of Mexico, depositing themselves, over eons, into mountains underwater.

This is a story worth retelling in the form of a sentence: The Rocky Mountains are redistributed through air and wind and water to the bottom of an ocean where they are renewed as mountains.

Another story that can be told again, and again: the live oak hosts a symbiotic fern that roots itself into the thick bark, protects and sustains the tree. In return the tree ensures that water is held where the fern roots. We can repeat this at night to ourselves, hushed in the false security of our rootedness: the live oak and the fern.

Every morning Bourbon Street is washed in bleach. I cannot claim the data here just as I cannot claim to know with certainty that the Rocky’s live at the bottom of the Gulf but I see how this breath ends, I see the liquid bleach following the path of least resistance toward the bothered ocean, drawn into the imbibing cracks of earth.

To propagate one sentences not in tweets but in oral fixity impressing upon those nearest to you: Hear this story in a single breath. Pouring out of the liquid city, all ledgers and walls underwater, carrying only these sentences to be told in a single breath, migratory words for survival.

A retreat from forced perspective that progress is attainable — a revaluation of circles returning to origins: it always was evolution it was never progress. The city itself an unstainable belief in verticality, migrating on the line from the first floor to the eighth floor and back down again. This recent injunction of diminished migration conceals our way to home.

Words mean the wrong thing. Our collective ego inverted; we place the antecedents as precedents. A home fixed, situated single solitary chained is as false as the myth of gods.

All histories are of migration — sand dunes migrating across a desert, butterflies toward the sun, the very rock of the Rocky’s pulverized by air and water into dirt and sand drawn across the prairie sky toward the Mississippi and out into the gulf.

Tell this to me in one breath as we walk for dry land.