64 Parishes

Poetry by Darrell Bourque

Poetry by the 2019 Humanist of the Year.

Published: March 1, 2019
Last Updated: October 16, 2020

Poetry by Darrell Bourque

Photo by Akasha Rabut.

Darrell Bourque.

2019 Humanist of the Year and former Poet Laureate of Louisiana Darrell Bourque has graciously shared the new poetry below with 64 Parishes readers, showcasing his new work on Henriette DeLille and migration, along with a memory of the great Nina Simone.


(L’aurore and Duc du Maine were the first slave ships bringing African slaves to Louisiana from Senegambia. They arrived in New Orleans on June 6, 1719.)

 I often woke to days of watered light. Lumière itself’s a watery word

in my father’s tongue, aurore as well. The French are so nearly right

about so many things: the mind & freedom, des idées, & how absurd

it is to live a life not your own, or what is white, or what is not white.


Where I lived the river emptied into a gulf, the gulf into a sea. Feu follet

de cemetière jumped walls & fences. Light without can be light within

an old Haitian woman told me. She taught my mother the game bourré,


or some version of a game she knew. The other bourrées were my way

into another life. I partnered with Josephine Charles or Juliette Guadin

or one of the other girls learning how to say what we were going to say


to the Frenchmen who came for us. From the Rigolets the marsh birds

taught us at least a thousand other tongues. No one knows how night

in Muskogeon sounds. Before it was Pontchartrain, lake water heard

Okwata as its name. In air both going away & going toward are flight.


Nina Simone and Me and a Bottle of Armagnac in Bouches-du-Rhône

(This poem was inspired by a performance by Simone that Bourque and his wife attended in France.)

Why you wanna fly blackbird?

Cause I love the blue blue sky.


Why you wanna fly blackbird?

Cause my feathers are rainbow shiny died.


Why you wanna fly blackbird?

Cause the branch I’m standing on is way too wide.


Why you wanna fly blackbird?

Cause I can’t get enough whiskey and rye.


Why you wanna fly blackbird?

Cause I don’t wanna say goodbye.


Why you wanna fly blackbird?

Cause I don’t wanna cry.


Why you wanna fly blackbird?

Cause I can’t get enough of getting high.


Why you wanna fly blackbird?

Cause I heard the story of that blackbird pie.


Why you wanna fly blackbird?

Parce que j’peux, imbécile,

et parce que nous allons tous mourir.


Place of the First Beginning

This poem is a companion to this painting of the same name by Bill Gingles.

Imagine yourself before you know the names of things. You can hear the aria your mother is singing,

singing you couldn’t hear before now. Water you swim in trembles in this place of the first beginning.


Kateri Tekakwitha was Algonquin-Mohawk. In her native tongue Tekakwitha is Bumps Into Things.

She braided her name to Catherine’s, immigrated to Place of Miracles, Place of the First Beginning.


In an afterlife trefoil and quatrefoil or cinquefoil or how many lotus in a dozen might lose all meaning,

how numbers mean or rates of quanta radiation. Time variates time in the place of the first beginning.


It’s sunset at the foot of Heart Mountain. You’re somewhere between Powell and Cody Wyoming.

The buffalo graze in measures of time you will never know, graze the place of the first beginning.


Your mother and your mother’s mother were the first immigrants to lay claim on you. Your finning

from their beating hearts was you finning as they had finned to reach a place of the first beginning.


My friend Bill paints boxes in boxes, white boxes, red boxes, paints walls with measured meaning,

paints operas only he can hear, amphoras, parallelograms, letters to a place of the first beginning.


Find those skies where dark clouds send their rains into showers of gold, where ramblers are tinning

pots and tending horses with travelers, bend to flowers at your feet, sing place of the first beginning.


The blue boat in the upper register marks a passage to your blue symphony in blue seas brimming

to take you to another shore. Geography is often no consolation nor is place of the first beginning.


When she was blind, she could still see her Pedernal lifting blueness from the narrow mesa rising

like a shadowy sun. She made up a story of a bargain with God, about place of the first beginning.


The Mediterranean makes a big circle. Cruise ship dreams, boats of St. Tropez dreams skimming

past cargo ships. In rubber rafts someone’s paid with his life for this place of the first beginning.


Shostakovich scored the difference between being moving into a score and the siege of finishing.

Everyone feared everyone else … sorrow … suffocated us, then came place of the first beginning.


Métis is written in my cheekbones. I’ve been told where I come from, but I will never hear the ring

inside my Mi’kmaq name. Could I be both Algonquin and French in my Place of the First Beginning?


The Clearing Ahead

This poem is a companion to this painting of the same name by Bill Gingles.

She knew she’d lighted the oven for the last time. She loved woodsmoke, the smell of it in bread.

She looked out at her morning glories climbing the courtyard wall, blues from the clearing ahead.


You were least expecting anything unusual. Inside the chatter at the fountain was your beloved.

You had let go of all you thought you owned, robe, book, bead, prayer, all for the clearing ahead.


A man and woman stop walking. They dance because they have to. They have nothing to dread,

he raises his hat, she shows him the soft flesh of her upper arm. They dance the clearing ahead.


Grandmother moved in with us. She was not immigrant. From her husband’s one book she read

us stories he wrote in a book the color of autumn. He’s the gold wanderer in the clearing ahead.


You see that picture with “Doktor Jazz” at La Cigale? Django’s mangled hand will put “Nuages

into Nazi beds tonight. Who’s Gypsy here? What jungle music? What color the clearing ahead?


They say in the caravan there are Middle Easterners. East of what Middle? We are to be afraid

they say. They say look to the inside. Inside we have each other we say, and the clearing ahead.


You moved into me without asking. Your whole body shuddered when you came. I never said

I’m Rabia. We had no common tongue. After I bathed you, I walked you to the clearing ahead.


I found my son faceup in the shallows of Baie Sainte-Marie, his skin the color of slate or lead.

We fought side by side, walked side by side. I still hear him calling me from the clearing ahead.


I’m Bourque here, or Bourg. I came with Thibodeaux, Levy, Latiolais, Castille, Darjean, Daigle,

Vallot, Boustany, Richard, Falcon, Arceneaux, Porche, cartographers all for the clearing ahead.

Celebrate Darrell Bourque and all of the 2019 Humanities Award winners on April 4 at the Bright Lights Awards Dinner in Lafayette. For more information and tickets, visit www.leh.org/brightlights.