Cajun

This poem was well received in my classes. The story and the meaning is strong and clear. Appropriation is something we all think about whether we use that word or not for how we build identity. Enjoy and remember who your ancestors were and what they had to do to survive.

Cajun                                                                                     Sheryl St. Germain

 

I want to take the word back into my body, back

from the northern restaurants with their neon signs

announcing it like a whore. I want it to be private again,

I want to sink back into the swamps that are nothing

like these clean restaurants, the swamps

with their mud and jaws and eyes that float

below the surface, the mud and jaws and eyes

of food or death. I want to see my father’s father’s

hands again, scarred with a life of netting and trapping,

thick gunk of bayou under his fingernails,

staining his cuticles, I want to remember the pride he took

gutting and cleaning what he caught; his were nothing

like the soft hands and clipped fingernails that serve us

in these restaurants cemented in land, the restaurants nothing

like the house we lived and died in, anchored in water,

trembling with every wind and flood.

 

And what my father’s mother knew:

how to make alligator tail sweet, how to cut up

muscled squirrel or rabbit, or wild duck,

cook it till it was tender, spice it and mix it all up

with rice that soaked up the spice and game so that

it all filled your mouth, thick and sticky, tasting

like blood and cayenne. And when I see the signs

on the restaurants, Cajun food served here,

it’s like a fish knife ripping my belly, and when I see

them all eating the white meat of fat chickens

and market cuts of steak or fish someone else

has caught cooked cajun stye, I feel it

again, the word’s been stolen, like me,

gutted.

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