My Grandfather's Hands

The Birth of Night

In a Marriage Certificate

Inventing an End

Marie Laveau Talks about Magic




Bruised and bloodshot
these heavy callused hands
once pulled weeds

from the tangled earth,
yanked vines and rope,
shoveled black dirt.

In the sun they held knives
glowing, gripped the necks
of whiskey bottles.

At work, they jerked
wrenches, rusty crowbars,
read lugnuts like braille.

In the dark sweat of the barn
they fell hard on the backs
of horses, pulled calves

from the clenched hips of cows,
snapped the necks of chickens.
At night they cupped in prayer.

Balled into fists they clutched
axes, dug graves, wrestled
with wheelbarrows, split lips.

Now, soft as the wings of angels,
they sleep, folded forever
across his sunken chest.

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The earth was without form, and void;
and darkness was on the face of the deep.
                                             --Genesis 1:2

When the earth was merely a lump of phlegm
sticky in the hollow of God’s throat,
silence wheezed and I was born,
dark and clean, a black breath sucked deep
from an empty space in his lung.

It was I who swallowed the sun,
who woke before the orange-red blush
ripened in the leaves of trees
where fruit hung heavy--
I who carved the edges of the moon,
who sharpened stars like teeth.

Gloriously divided from light,
I was the world’s one dark element,
long before the shape of Man
blinked in a red puff of clay
and Eve’s pale-fisted body squirmed
in the bony womb of Adam’s rib.

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Deep in the cotton petals of a watermark
I see my father stacking sheets of plywood,

his hands freckled with sawdust, his silvery
white skin flickering in the sun, my mother

standing beside him, measuring each plank
of wood, her eyes like blackberries floating

in a pool of milk.  She says, “There’s something
wrong,” and fog settles like an argument.

A Coca-Cola bottle sweats on the picnic table,
the petals of pansies curl into tight yellow fists,

and my parents stand there, like boards that won't
fit, like two splintered edges refusing to meet.

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    for Leigh Mayeaux, whose body was never found.

Maybe he straddles you in the soft mud,
his eyes the brown shells of beetles,
your voice a yellow-jacket buzzing
in the sweaty throat of his palm.

Maybe sunlight trickles onto the ground
as the sharp black wings of crows ripple
in the curved steel of his switchblade,
or maybe he has a gun.

In my mind the end is always the same:
your pale body twisted in the muddy mouth
of a bayou where rusty lures flicker like flashbulbs
and the spotted scales of bass blink

through green lashes of eel grass.
I see you drifting through a cloud of cattails,
hair tangled with leaves, lips curled
around your final watery word.

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Marie Laveau, a colored woman who eventually became
known as the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans, often used
her knowledge of Voodoo to manipulate  and acquire power.

In one quick lick I waved my mojo hand,
made the Mississippi’s muddy spine
run crooked as a crow’s foot,
scared politicians into my pocket
with lizard tongues and buzzard bones,
convinced the governor to sing my name
under a sharp crescent moon
white as a gator’s tooth.

Now my magic got the whole Vieux Carré
waltzing with redfish and rooster heads,
got Protestants blessing okra and cayenne,
Catholics chasing black cats down Dumaine,
even got Creoles two-stepping with pythons
along the banks of Bayou St. John.

They say soon my powers gonna fade,
that there’s a noose aloose in the streets
looking for a neck to blame.
But I’m just a lowly colored woman
and ain’t nobody gonna blame a worm
for scaring a catfish onto a hook.


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