the GENDER issue / POETRY

Catfish Mardi Gras Queen 

by Dr. Mel Michelle Lewis

Photo Credit: Mel Michelle Lewis

You just like yo daddy

Dis said and meant all kindaways

 

I. Relations

 

Dey call me Jr. 

Even tho I got a brother

He go by Dubois

He call me Jr. too

 

Dubois a blue heron  

He regal and ready 

For Mardi Gras 

He slick his hair and shine his shoes

He slow and pretty

He go out clean and come back clean

He still and sharp

He like to see and be seen

He like to look but don’t touch

Dubois don't like no trouble

 

I’s a steady oak tree

I’s brown and green and taut

I’s fixed and fine 

I come and go with ghosts

I’s magic familiar

I’s Spanish moss in the breeze

I aint no lady

 

Ladies talk

Dey jus say I’m trouble

Dey jus say, girl you betta come gimme some sugar

Dey jus say, umph

You just like yo daddy

 

II. Ladyfriends

 

Tain’t nuthin’ wrong wit ladyfriends 

Folks round here known Ms. Isidore and Ma Chevery all they life

Red got a ladyfriend in town now too

Taint nobody down dis way seent whoitis yet

Cept Dubois and he aint said nuthin

He let Red drive his Cadillac

He let Red wear his sport coats

She careful and fill up the tank

She shine the rims and the windows

She dry-clean his jackets

They both good at being friends and keepin confidence

Dubois don't like no trouble 

 

Tain’t nuthin’ wrong wit ladyfriends

Ma Chevery can fix on your boat for a Sunday dinner plate

Clean your catch for a jar of fresh lemonade

Repair a cast net for a pecan pie

She jus like her daddy

Captain Chevery

E’rybody know bout dat

 

Ma Chevery’s ladyfriend Ms. Isidore 

Sew gowns and drink wine

Sing French and drink wine

Garden flowers and drink wine

Pray rosary and drink wine

Do hair and drink wine

Root work and drink wine

Make love and drink wine

But she don't cook nuthin fo nobody

E’rybody know bout dat

 

Ms. Isidore lookin real good for her age

She shoal like to flirt

When Ma Chevery out fishin

She say I’m a handsome woman 

I’s jus like my daddy

Ms. Isidore like women and mules

Seasoned and dependable

I aint nether, yet

E’rybody know bout dat

 

Ms. Isidore love Ma Chevery

Ms. Isidore love her mules too

Specially the one her daddy gave her

Magic Black Isidore been dead at least forty years

The mule an old good boy

His name been Marian Anderson 

Since the first day

He don't mind it one bit

 

Ms. Isidore love Ma Chevery and Marian Anderson

She call em both Ma

With the same tenderness

She love em more than she could

Say to em or bout em

E’rybody know bout dat

 

III. Mardi Gras Kitchen

 

Ms. Isidore, Dauphine, and the ladies 

Carryin on in the kitchen 

Sewing gowns and pressing hair

Kings and queens and courts and parades

Balls all weekend 

Mass on Sunday

Mardi Gras gumbo

King cake on Tuesday

 

I aint bout to go nowhere

Dressed up like the pope

I’s jus like my daddy

He don't go nowheres for nothing 

Cept a repast after the funeral

Of somebody humble 

And blessin of the shrimp fleet

 

I ain’t thinkinbout nobody’s Mardi Gras 

Cept maybe thinkingbout up under Dauphine’s gown she gon wear

bout moss and salt water and hurricanes under her slip

Don't nobody ask what I know bout dat

 

Ladies primpin and fussin 

Can’t find the parasol in the closet 

Mrs. Tillman say it bettta not be in the tool shed

With the fishing tackle 

Mamma Dear get worked up

Say parasol aint no umbrella 

Say she like to see my daddy

Walkin round in the rain with all that lace trim

She put on it

 

Dey all fall out laughin

Ms. Isidore even spill half her wine

Down her bosom

Momma Dear can hear

In her left ear

A little 

If she can get in a joke on my daddy

Even though she dont hear nothing

She don't wanna to hear

 

I aint goin in the kitchen

dey gon poke fun and try da get me up in a gown 

just ta see if I’m as pretty as handsome 

Dey know itaintright

Dauphine can jus tellem

Yes 

Cause she know bout dat

 

IV. Dauphine

 

I whisper to Dauphine through the screen back door

Latched with a hook from the inside

Pass me some moon pies off the counter

She suck her teeth at me

She roll her eyes

She latched herself with a hook from the inside

 

I ask please, I say sorry

I mean it

She blush 

She wink 

She grin 

She put her hands on her hips

She unlatch the door

She unlatch her smile

 

She tell me go check her crab traps 

She put down

In the bayou with a chicken thigh this morning

She give me some half melted moon pies out her pocket

She latch the screen door

She latch her lips back

She turn her back but don't walk away

We still feelin through the screen

 

V. Miss. Katrina

 

Aeyo!

I got us some moon pies Miss. Katirna

I yell out to the bayou

Don’t nobody think catfish can hear you talkin 

But they got ears bout like ours you know

Aeyo!

 

Miss. Katrina come out the mud slow

She swim to me and lift the fin on her back

She float on her side

And look at me with her too little eye

Same too small blue eyes as Mrs. Tillman’s 

Tubby brown baby

E’rybody know bout dat

 

Miss. Katrina keep me company

While I pull the traps and see what crabs

We got to put in de

Mardi Gras gumbo

They still dancing and fiddling and pinchin each other

Over what left of the chicken thighs

 

Miss. Katrina eat anything cept what’s on a hook

And Mrs. Valerie’s potato salad 

Jus like anybody who got sense

I gave her some on a spoon jus to see

Miss. Katrina went back in the mud over that

She aint come out till I gave her

A quarter pound of bait shrimp to apologize

 

I named her after the storm

When the Bayou changed

That's when she came to stay 

In the bend

In our yard

She as big and the color of Mamma Dear’s thigh

With housecoat raised high

In the afternoon heat

 

I sink down in the bayou 

Open the moon pie wrappers

Lemme see Miss. Katrina

You like marshmallow 

Chocolate or vanilla 

Miss. Katrina Catfish Mardi Gras Queen 

She like chocolate moon pie too

 

Miss. Katrina make kisses at me

She got long whiskers like 

Granddaddy Beau’s photo in the foyer

And bout as friendly

No teeth in dey smile 

Miss. Katrina got on red lipstick 

Like what my daddy got on him when he come home

After kissin 

And he don't know bout it

 

I’s just like my daddy

Dis said and meant all kindaways

 

 

Dr. Mel Michelle Lewis is Associate Professor of Gender/Sexuality in Humanistic Studies at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA). Their courses, research, and publications specifically address Black queer feminist thought, queer femme embodied text, intersex justice, performance and embodiment in the classroom, and queer feminist critical pedagogies. Originally from Bayou la Batre, Alabama, their creative work explores queer of color themes in Deep South rural coastal settings.

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