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Berman Black  

Construction Management


Ms. Emelda

Ms. Emelda is never going to reimburse us for her new kitchen,

the repairs to her roof and the weatherboards,

the new gas heaters or the landscaping.

Even though the State,

through a federal grant,

has awarded her thousands of dollars

for home repairs.

She pulls her gown around her to shield her from the rain that is falling sideways. 

“That boy over there in the red hat.  He don’t do nothing.  He sits there all day selling drugs. 

I call the FBI.

I got their number right here in my wallet. 

‘ Come and get ‘em’ 

They don’t do anything positive.

‘Why don’t you help the old people. 

Help me clean up around here.’

But they don’t do anything. They’re not like you.  You got a heart.”



The Debate

The Orleans Parish coroner's office has released the identities of two New Orleans men who were slain this week, one in a possible case of justifiable homicide and the other a murder.


The Diggers

Calvin is big, with big hands

A round nose and a hat with a flat brim.

Beneath a gorgeous home Uptown, he is standing, resting his shovel,

 in a hole he has dug,

his head scraping the floor joist.

Chuckie is still digging on his back, laid out underneath the central air unit, the silver plenums stretching out from it.

“Hey Calvin,” says Chuckie.  “I want to walk Teresa home tonight.”

“She want you to walk her home?”

“I think so.”

Then they keep digging.

Above them, a little girl in a blue dress is running back and forth screaming at her athletic young mother who is trying to get the girl into the car.


St. Jane

We worked all day, then we got off and went to do our side jobs, and we never got anywhere, they gave us no money and nothing got done. Everyone was depressed and it was cold.  We were thinking about suicide.  But then our girlfriend at the time gave us a video cassette copy of A&E's pride and prejudiced.  We watched all six hours in one night, then in sections when we could, on repeat for two months. 

Thank You St. Jane, Patron Saint of Things Working Out For The Best, for the Bennets and the Darcys and the Bingleys and for guiding us back into the light.


Ms. Dora’s

We won’t ever stop passing by Ms. Dora’s,

Even though we know she’s got an able body son

that works for Sewage and Water Board

who we just saw

out on N. Dorgenios

digging up a water main,

because we feel responsible

for her bathroom

that’s slowly falling off the back of her house

because we could have fixed it

and we didn’t

even when we had the chance

and even though she says

she’s satisfied

we know

we did wrong by her.


The Grant We Work Under

We are ghosts. 

In four months, we will not exist.

You will call our phones and they will be disconnected. 

Emails will bounce back.

 We do not tell the clients this, though we try to plan. 

Some of us secretly hope. 

We are slaves to it.


The Plumber’s explanation behind the $400 Gas Test

“It cost $100 dollars to file it,

plus upgrades.

And then there’s Raymond, the inspector,

He needs to get a taste,

And you know I got to make something

out here.”



Our roommate, who is a detective of sorts, works for the Public Defender. 

“What do you make of Favre trying to come out of retirement?” she asks.

She is eating her usual bowl of oatmeal dinner. 

Her question has been the hot debate on talk radio for days.

“Do you think he should stay away from the sport?” we ask, and from there we have a discussion that leads to this decision.

He isn’t doing it for the money.

“For the adoration of others,” says our roommate.

“From the compulsion to satisfy his own expectations of himself,” we say.

“I think,” she starts in, “that all of it is connected to acknowledgement.”

We agree that Favre is a first ballot hall-of-famer, regardless.


The Kenner Tunnel, Tuesday

All we remember about that job is the mud walls that started sliding in on us as the train, fifty feet away and seven feet above us, shook the ground and the tracks next to the apartment complex we’re working under.


N. Prieur

On Thursday

you meet Albert

the OCD sheetrocker

who calls in about every gang box and corner

and Mark,

the long-term volunteer Jew,

who works the warehouse

and is overly concerned about the proliferation

of oval light doors

on the historic housing stock

below Broad.

Lloyd, the handyman the homeowner hired

unbeknownst to us

who is repairing the tile

we had laid, for 15 dollars an hour

by Dennis

who came to New Orleans to work

and hide out

from his wife

after his son got killed in Iraq

and who, before he went back to Illinois

after he had it out with Saul

and his team of teenage Mexican plumbers

who, again,

unbeknownst to us

lent our hammer to a toothless woman that stayed down the block

and who we are forced to chase around the Treme

in order to get back what is ours



We are too tired to pick up our arms

And change the radio station

Where they are telling us

That we just aren’t working hard enough

“we just don’t want it enough,”

so we sit

stopped by the St. Claude Bridge

and look down on some men

who are hanging plywood

across a burnt out wall

to keep the neighbors

from crawling inside.


A Call For Help

The woman asks straight out,

“Help me pay my rent.”

“Ma’am, it is our policy to not pay rent.”

“Ya see though,” she starts in,

 “You all helped me with my light bill. 

But you didn’t pay all of it. 

So I had to pay some of it

and that’s what got me behind on rent.”


The Third Time out to Music St.

We’re standing in the yard

And the dog is chained to the fence

And flies are swarming around the salad

That’s been tossed out for it

Because we can’t do anything else,

We can’t figure out how to keep all those windows from leaking,

We’ve tried every type of caulk

and flashing that we can think of

and we know that every time we make a move

it’ll be wrong.

and everyone knows

if you’re not doing the work right

you’re not helping anyone.



Ms. Jean and Ms. Hannah are a success story, not our success story, but a success nonetheless.  They lived across the street from each other, and they were both out of town when Ms. Jean’s son, who worked in concrete, found a man who said he could do both their houses, so they sent their money to the man and he raised the houses first, because they were below the flood elevation, but the piers he built beneath the homes weren’t piers really, but just blocks, not set on footings or supported in anyway, and by the time he got around to reinforcing the walls and running new wires and pipes he was out of money, he said, and had run-off so that when we came on we did what we could to salvage the projects, first putting siding on Ms. Jean’s house so the weather would stop rotting out the structure and also reframing a section of her roof where the weight of the shingles was pulling it down, but then we ran out of money too and we spent our last five hundred dollars on a structural engineering report for Ms. Hannah’s house, a report that was never delivered, but we never followed up on it because we knew we couldn’t afford to do anything on either of the houses anyway so we waited and we talked with Ms. Jean and Ms. Hannah everyday almost, independently, and tried to keep their spirits up until one day we were driving down the block and saw volunteers swarming over Ms. Jean’s house and she was even out there, pulling nails from a 2x4, and we stopped to ask her what was going on and she said that some men from a faith-based group had picked her and her neighbor as the first candidates in their pilot program to rehab houses in the neighborhood, and then she said it was a miracle, which we had to admit, it was.


Berman Black

Berman Black has written fiction and non-fiction, under various pseudonyms, for publications such as The Blip Magazine Archive and Opium.  He has collaborated with artist Brad Benischek to create installation pieces such as the "Narrative" series, as well as various other pamphleteering projects. Black has also been a member of Press Street since its inception and has acted as a contributing editor on its publications.  He works construction for a non-profit in New Orleans.

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