I ate sweet rolls and chickens pecked the door
while my people at the table carried on
in French, playing cards and peeling crabs.
We cursed in voodoo at football on TV,
and when Chester got sick we moved his bed
in there so he could join us. How many trips
to the Gulf Coast casinos before he lost
the inheritance from LaDonna's,
the barroom his father named for a mistress,
because he was shooting for the fur coat life,
with king crab for breakfast to crown comp nights
in casino hotels? If I squint my eyes I could say
he won--we were Mardi Gras rich
with a chest of doubloons in jewel colors.
Uncle Royal called me queen and I believed,
because he wore coattails spangled with sequins,
and I rode his shoulders, and the Krewe
of Choctaw's feathered horses curtseyed
and their riders tossed silk roses at our feet.
Grandmother's chin hairs frizzed in the dark
and the wet house sank into itself
and, across the Mississippi, New Orleans
glittered, a string of pearls just out of reach.
Outsider, I never belonged over there,
but under the bridge I was a legacy--at
the pawn shop, at the Camel Club where
my father ministered to shaky addicts
and drunks, those wailing infants of sobriety.
Saint Irvin offering the sacraments
of burnt coffee and no questions asked.
Royalty, former hard-drinking welders
and kings, fat on shrimp as long as we kept
the boat. Saint Joseph's Day, and look at my son,
starring as Jesus Christ in the pageantry--
Jesus, Mary, and Joseph door to door
seeking shelter and rest. For the finale,
an altar of food, and at the center
my royal boy cradled in the braided loaves.