64 Parishes

Fall 2018

Poetry by Sheryl St. Germain

Selected by Louisiana Poet Laureate Jack Bedell

Published: January 25, 2022
Last Updated: January 25, 2022

Poetry by Sheryl St. Germain

Photo by John Margolies, Library of Congress

Bowling alley, Portland, Oregon, 1976.

The quality I respect most in Sheryl St. Germain’s work is its unflinching focus on the world as it is. Hers is the perfect art to show us there’s beauty everywhere, even in the darkest corners of our lives. Sheryl’s range, voice, and deft hand at delivering detail make her essential to any understanding of poetry in Louisiana.
—Jack Bedell


A Perfect Game

—after Robert Hayden

Sundays too, I tell my son, your grandfather drank—

at the bowling alley between strikes and spares and

claps on the back.


I loved to watch him make the approach for his shot:

how serious, how attentive to his posture,


the placement of his hands, his eyes never

wavering from the pins, the ball sent on its sure arc,


hooking into the head pin at just the right angle

for all to fall down. Often, in the early years,


he would bowl a perfect game, twelve strikes

in a row, no matter how much he drank. Somehow


drink and skill merged for a time into the poetry

of a flawless act. Sometimes we would drive with



to tournaments far away, fear gripping us as he


back home, barely avoiding the crashes he would



in the future. Time passed, he bowled fewer strikes,

and his trophies migrated to the hall closet,


piled up one on the other, so many forgotten

bodies: bronze statues of the same faceless man


with the golden ball, his name plated at the bottom.

Before he died he met me for dinner


one last time, hands trembling,

voice quaking, almost incoherent. He couldn’t eat,


would only drink cup after cup of black coffee.

I was still a child. What did I know,


what did I know, of a father’s Stygian alleys,

of drink’s guttered offices?



The Grief Committee

One is some sort of cleaning woman

constantly sweeping and dusting,

straightening chairs, moving the furniture

around. A pile of what she calls

rubbish lurks in one corner of my heart.

Her vote is to wipe our hands of it all,

empty out every spidery space,

get on with it, throw it all out.


Another sits in a farther corner at a small desk

doing mathematical proofs and equations

over and over, if this, then that, she scribbles,

x plus y equals n, heroin plus benzos equals death,

meth plus alcohol plus asthma equals death,

if only x had not happened, if only y

this plus this still equals this, this subtracted

from this still equals this, this divided by this

still equals this. It is still a mystery; she must

start all over again.


In another corner skulks a crazy woman,

hair unbrushed and matted,

dark circles rimming her eyes. Fingernails

bit to blood, she’s mad with sorrow.

She will have nothing to do with the cleaning

of houses or the doing of sums.


Originally from New Orleans, award-winning author Sheryl St. Germain has published six poetry books, two collections of essays, and co-edited two anthologies. The poems above are featured in The Small Door of Your Death (Autumn House Press, 2018), a collection of poems about the death of her son from a heroin overdose. A collection of essays, Fifty Miles, will appear in 2020 with Etruscan Press. She directs the MFA program in Creative Writing at Chatham University in Pittsburgh.