The Sanitarium

A long flight to the Alexandria Sanitarium, “open for the admission of patients since January 1, 1903

A private hospital for the convenience of physicians and patients. Modern operating rooms, trained nurses, every comfort, rates dollars $2.50 to $5.00 per day, including medicines and surgical dressings.

Patients must employ their own physicians.”

The Sanitarium is now a Trauma Center, a bustling world of nurses, surgeons, green and red and blue uniforms, ventilators and centrifugal pumps, an army of digital devices beeping important information to the nurse’s desk, who fly in and out of rooms with their gruesome work. The old halls are filled with down-home people in stressful life situations, whole hierarchies hunched together in prayer and old stories, knee-patting, softened gazes at things far away. I’m dizzy with all the humanity as my mother lies somewhere between a coma and the confusing world that surrounds her.

Outside the old city of Alexandria languorous, a bell rings every half hour at the St. Francis Xavier Academy of 1834.

A quiet place with few people out, these hurried to escape the heat, it’s very easy to hustle past downtown and into the maw of Louisiana’s fields and trees, forever lonely and sad and dark. Over a grassy hill the Red River sparkles and shimmers, its dark waters drifting in complicated arcs that break against each other.

Here is a ragged form, carefully pruned, that begs to re-assert itself. As a champion of their world, I hope the machine eventually breaks, or let us say… we wait. It is with this sentiment that I enjoy the age of the empty streets. It is an organic, beating plateau of civilization on hollow, bottomless ground, as if the foundations were adrift, floating on the mud of the alluvial plain, flood path of the Mississippi.

Many of the buildings here bear the mark of past storms, with paint falling off in sheets, old plywood and sandbags.

An overgrown park near the library is a slab of an old building gone to weed.

At the post office courthouse, the flag flies at half-mast.

I walk past scenes that I’ve seen before, dimly, as in a dream. It may be the echo of something of the past, as my family line has a long history through these regions, or the similarity of tone and texture that resonates with the scenes I knew as a child, for I have never been here.

Down through a dark corridor of bushes on Murray Street, and the town suddenly ends. There are no straight lines here. All the buildings are filled with lawyers and paralegals, notaries, bail-bondsman, police.

Down Eighth, the Showcase Society Club stands out among the boarded husks of another age, their thousand stories untold, un-exhumed, left to wait, patiently, for the wild that dominates.

But the ruins, like the Greek pillars of old, resonate already with the quaking ground, frame the natural environment perfectly – at least to a human eye.

Dead-end street, another turn inward…

the sidewalk goes under the freeway, the ground covered in gravel. A lighted path winds underneath, for what purpose?

Across a drainage ditch bigger than the LA River I return to the affected city of Fulton’s design.

Hurricane fences collapse, overgrown, thick lawns gone to seed, broken roofs, fractured slabs everywhere bristling with promise.

At Sixth and Lee the fire station and an enormous steel smokestack…

that marks my return to the Alexander Fulton Hotel.

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