Friday, November 21, 2008

POET LAUREATE OF CATAHOULA


When I talked with my friend Janet about her work as a scout for the movie, IN THE ELECTRIC MIST OF THE CONFEDERATE DEAD, (topic of a recent blog), she also mentioned the night she accompanied film crew members who worked on an opening montage for the TV series, “True Blood,” set in an area that would depict a contemporary, decadent southern place. Janet didn’t disclose the locale, but she described an event featuring a good friend of mine, Mary Himel of New Iberia – a woman I call the “poet laureate of Catahoula.” Catahoula is part of St. Martin parish, Louisiana and isn’t to be confused with Catahoula Parish, birthplace of the famous marble blue-eyed Catahoula hound further north and near Harrisonburg, Louisiana.

Border Press published a chapbook of Mary’s work entitled WHEN THE LEVEE WAS A SNOW BANK in 2003 before Mary was tapped to play a role in the montage for “True Blood.” In the montage scene, Mary wears a modest Sunday dress, with hip waders beneath, and wades into swamp water for a night-time baptism (the scene was actually shot at night). Scout Janet stood on the bank and watched male crew members from New York and Chicago stiffen when they saw a water moccasin swim toward the spotlight where Mary stood, waiting to be immersed. Unflinching Mary, who spent her childhood in Catahoula, has the verve of a strong Cajun woman and simply stared the snake down. She may not have continued her film career following filming of the montage, but she was a much-talked about woman when the amazed crew members met for coffee the morning following the snake stare-down. Janet took pictures of this scene, but lost them during a computer crash – she says it was a great loss as Mary was “classic” in her depiction of a Cajun woman being baptized.

Mary Himel writes poetry and short stories, “always within 50 miles of her birthplace,” she says, “and the world has been big and small at once. In my writings, I attempt to unite those two worlds.” She taught French and English on the secondary level in St. Mary and St. Martin parishes, worked as a masseuse, and now spends a lot of time recording memories of Catahoula and Bayou Portage, her “childhood Edens that are my treasure chest of imagery,” she adds.

A poem from WHEN THE LEVEE WAS A SNOW BANK by Mary Himel, published by Border Press:

MY POEMS DANCE THE TWO STEP:

My people sleepwalk,
doused in drink to keep afloat

dreams of an Arcadia -- distant,
they don’t recall –

only the good times now
that come with the sure steps,

buoyed repetition.

Always my people dance the Two-Step,
“Fais do-do” holds more than colloquial charm,

every dance a step back toward Beau Pre,
where God had been generous,

the ox bow garden that lulled in its arms
tired children in earth that provided all.

The photograph on the cover of WHEN THE LEVEE WAS A SNOW BANK, which appears above, was taken by Mary.
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