Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A TECHE COUNTRY POET RE-DISCOVERED


After leaving Sewanee, Tennessee on Sunday, I returned to New Iberia, Louisiana Monday evening, expecting a Louisiana monsoon, and I was relieved to find sunshine and roads devoid of mud. Two days later, I am looking out my window at the sunny patio and hoping the weather will hold. October is usually a halcyon month in Louisiana, and I like Teche country in the late Fall when some of the sulk has gone out of the air and I wake up to crisp, clear mornings.

After cleaning and tending yard for two days, I began “reading the shelves,” particularly the ones containing my Louisiana collection, and I dusted off several good titles about hurricanes before I unearthed a thin chapbook entitled SHORT MEET, the poetry of a younger friend of mine, Jeanne Bernard, who often shared dinner and literary conversation at my home on Front Street back in the 80's before she moved away – far away – to Paris, France where she met and married a Frenchman. Jeanne is the youngest of eight children born to Lewis and Catherine Bernard of New Iberia and has the distinction of carrying her grandmother’s unusual name as a middle name: Alaska. I’m not privy to the story about how Jeanne’s grandmother acquired such a distinctive name, but Jeanne often used the middle name because most people mispronounced her first name, she said , at the time of the publication of SHORT MEET. Today, I’m sure Parisians don’t have any difficulty giving it a proper French inflection.

Jeanne wrote the slim volume of poems when she was working on her B.A. at Stephens College in Missouri. The booklet is No 227 of 300 copies and No. 4 in the Harbinger Chap Book Series published by Stephens College. It contains several poems that should resonate with native New Iberians, poems rich with imagery of south Louisiana. I always thought Jeanne would be the Poet Laureate of Louisiana one day. Actually, our wonderful Poet Laureate, Darrell Bourque, read at a poetry event at the Iberia Parish Library the same night Jeanne read from SHORT MEET, and I had the privilege of introducing both of them.

One of the poems that I think is rich in Teche country imagery is entitled “At the Cemetery,” and I’m sharing it with readers because I want Jeanne to read it in a blog and remember that she’s a talented writer who needs to pick up her pen again!

“AT THE CEMETERY (for my brother, Buddy)

We walked to Papou’s grave
with the two camellias, Purple Dawn,
we had cut, and imagined
we would find something more
than a slab of granite in the cold grass.
But it was noisy out.
There were firecrackers popping,
children shouting, radios
blaring in the next lot.
We were cold,
and the city sewage stank.

I had few recollections:
how Big Mary Marionneaux
placed her hands on my shoulders
when they lowered his coffin,
Mama saying it was
“pitiful to watch
your poor ol’ grandfather
buy these plots”
just before our grandmother died.

Her headstone said
Happiest When Doing For Others,
and we brought no camellia for her.
When you placed your camellia in his vase,
I decided to put mine in hers,
remembering how the other Mary,
Mary Fontenette,
came to our house in a cab
the morning Granou died,
saying “She told me to come take care of her children.”

And you remembered that Granou
used to sing as she and Papou
tended their wild irises and roses,
their tulips and pansies, easter
lilies, morning glories, camellias.

When we got home I told Mama
what I’d done with my flower.
“You should have picked Pink Perfection,” she said.
“Your grandfather loved her in pink.”
Post a Comment