64 Parishes

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64 Parishes Welcomes Alison Pelegrin

The new Louisiana Poet Laureate shares work about people, places, ruination, and rebirth

64 Parishes Welcomes Alison Pelegrin

Photo by Brian Pavlich

Alison Pelegrin.

Louisiana Poet Laureate Alison Pelegrin is the author of the poetry collections Our Lady of BewildermentWaterlines, Hurricane Party, and Big Muddy River of Stars, winner of the 2006 Akron Poetry Prize. Her chapbook Our Lady of the Flood won the Diode 2018 chapbook prize and an Eric Hoffer Award. She is the recipient of a literature fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and an ATLAS Grant from the Louisiana Board of Regents. She is Writer-in-Residence at Southeastern Louisiana University, and her work has appeared in Bennington Review, the Southern Review, Ninth Letter, and as printable broadsides at Broadsided.

Pelegrin writes of her work, “Louisiana—our people, places, ruination, rebirth—has always been my favorite and pretty much only subject. I’ll never run out of things to say about it. Nothing brings me more joy than to add my voice to our river of voices, and I am excited to spend the next two years crisscrossing the state to talk about poetry and to urge others to give voice to what they have experienced and seen in our shared world.” To find out more about Pelegrin and upcoming events during her term, visit alisonpelegrin.com.

 

Even in Gretna, Hearing the Cashier Talk, I Long for Gretna

after Basho

Coasting into my old world to help

mom pack up the house she can’t sell

for nothing rimmed as it is with trash

and canals threatening to overflow

I get a taste for the red drink

of my youth and when the cashier

at the gas station lets slip the drawl

of my people most of them scattered

elsewhere or to the grave I could weep

peacock talk purposely showy and slow

any time I’d hit the twang mom got angry

because I was letting my Gretna show

she threatened a face slap or taste of soap

and I circled on a red bike just out of reach

from Our Lady of Bewilderment. LSU Press, 2022.

 

Multitudes

I was a horse girl. I took Black Beauty to heart

but kept it secret, just one of the multitudes

swarming on the inside, though on paper I am mute—

 

only in bubble letters under lock and key

did I promise faithfulness — one page a day until I die.

In truth, my mind gallops from one obsession

 

to the next. Unable to select from the stables

a steed for a birthday trail ride, I settled for one

with a bald face and crusty eyes just to be done

 

with the choosing, and like a trail ride mare I circle

back to where I began, the wide world ignored.

Having always confused my whims for divination,

 

I expect signs to appear when called. Sometimes

I read back to front, and for this reason Izumi Shikibu’s

deathbed poem seems less epitaph than a creed:

 

O moon above the mountains’ rim, please shine

a little further on my path. I am large, but airbrush t-shirts

have narrow margins and it’s serious work,

 

auditioning words to stencil across the neon sky.

 

As I Stand on a Paddle Board for the First Time in June,

I Plan for October’s Eclipse

after James Wright

Knowing full well the folly

of counting on tomorrow, I resolve

to be on Bayou Castine

for the eclipse coming in 100 days.

I’ve got solar glasses and a flashlight

to wear around my neck,

and I’ll pack a flask, because if you’re not

reading boat names and sipping bourbon

on the bayou during the annular eclipse,

why even bother?

 

But now it is summer,

and I live for darkness where it is cooler,

roaming the yard in board shorts and Crocs.

How do I, who barely have

my balance, dare dream of gliding

among cypress stoic in black waters?

Tonight’s crickets salute the thunder moon.

Those that will sing their confusion

to the future have just taken root.

 

Spectacles of Daily Life

There are things you own

without knowing — boat slip

in your name though the skiff

changed hands long ago.

Your people’s unquestioned ways—

prayer cards in the pocket,

canceled casino dice, votives

making a shrine of the bathroom.

These spectacles of daily life

are so small, possess so little mystery

they’re hardly worth writing down.

I drive past Parc Fontaine

where my father lived forty years ago,

but never past his grave. Once was enough—

holding it all in, no ripple of ruckus

from us in leopard print or pearl snaps

still creased from Tractor Supply,

eyes locked on the coffin which was nothing

if not one of Earl’s crab traps

baited with turkey necks

and sinking with no splash.