My Country ‘Tis of Thee (Just Not You and Me)

It was five years ago. I’ll never forget it and I was safe and dry 2000 miles away.

But, my sense of America changed–no, ‘ruptured’ is the right verb- that week.  Permanently ruptured as geologic plates alter landscapes in an earthquake.

My country was revealed and I didn’t like I what I saw.

If the Northeast coastline of the US–Long Island, NY, NYC, Greenwich, CT, Boston, Ma, Nantucket, Ma had been hit by Katrina with equal devastation, it would not have taken five days to deploy the military that I knew absolutely from day three on.

If those bodies floating and bloated in the flood waters had been white bodies wearing polo shirts?  If those elderly women slumped in the wheelchairs on the Interstate had their Prada shoes on?

Folks, I don’t know things “absolutely” too often.  But, this I utter quietly:  It would not have taken Don Rumsfeld and the rest of the nation’s federal, state and city leaders five days to get General Honore and his Duck Boats into downtown Greenwich or to an overpass on Route 95.

Incompetent leadership can explain only so much  (although, I grant you– didn’t we just have a perfect storm of that as well?) but we have to look elsewhere…to a pernicious strain of class and racism that escaped into the ether for all to see from those damning images that kept coming day after day.

Five years later, there still has been no transforming national dialogue about that one single fact.

The first photograph I did in 2005, in the days following the storm, was a daily newspaper collage from front pages across the United States that had been posted individually on a website,  They showed the narrative of mind numbing despair that I, for one, had never seen in my 65 years of living in this country.

This 2010 photograph is constituted of two major images: original newspaper collage made in 2005 and a photo taken two days ago on my IPHONE.  I waved the phone in a counterclockwise direction over wet macadam with a fallen single oak leaf embedded into it.  I wanted it to look like one of those satellite images of the hurricane approaching the Gulf Coast.

Here is a slideshow of the making of this image.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

(George W. Bush is often referred to as “43” since he was the 43rd President of the United States and his father, George H. W. Bush, was the 41st President of the United States.)

©Pat Coakley 2010


**Select photographs from this blog and my wider archive can be purchased at

5 comments on “My Country ‘Tis of Thee (Just Not You and Me)”

  1. Wow! A cell phone swirling? Maybe I do need to get one! This is so very creative, Pat. Not only does it make me think of a hurricane but how about a black hole? It illustrates your post, perfectly.

    • Leslie, I have now started an entire IPHONE series while out walking but I don’t wave the phone around too often! I’d say if you have survived without a cellphone up to now, you don’t need one. Maybe it helps your painting to be removed from all this techno craziness?

      • I think you are correct about techno and creativity unless the artist has broken into the wonderful world of digital. Thanks for this thought!

  2. Nice image and strong commentary, Pat. The natural catastrophe in New Orleans ripped away the veil for those with the vision to see. And even today, those who “matter” have been helped, while those who don’t have been dispersed and disposessed.

  3. beautifully done. we need to be reminded over, and over, and over again what happened on the Gulf Coast, and art like this is precisely what’s needed to get past people’s barriers and help them Feel.

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