Rigorous
Volume Three, Issue 4



Epitaph of the Louisiana Migration

Katherine Lutz


“On the windy road to Zion, I see what cannot be seen.”

Current free
colorless, starry.
A river old
and flat
on its back.
Then came the rain.

Washed away not by
decision, they migrated
North, left behind bread
bins and televisions,
cakes like clouds of
sugarflour, catfish
caught
by line, rats and
chickens as pets,
and snakes
like ropes in the trees.

They ran from elderly
armchair mothers, cigar-
smoking, grandson belt-
beaters. Suspect Choctaw
patriarchs. Smooth-
skinned women whose hair
stood high
as cheekbones. Men
called Ole’ Papa, riding
broke back
horses over dusty,
muddy fields, whipping hands.

They left little
education, jobs, money. Bodies
bony—signs of hunger and
TB. Do without family and
crows, crows, crows.

Not a hand waving to their
children from train, bus,
boat. Up North they
found a city like all cities,
overrun.

What is this stamp of land?
What is this house?
This fence, school, department store?
This job in a bakery, a mill?

They stitch a community of unions,
churches and families from tattered memories.
And walk down streets garbage-strewn,
past grassless parks. They run to sidewalk,
fence, front door, inside—that old world
of violence and shame—a comfort,
remembrance.

*

Here they plant their children in paisley
carpeting, on second-hand furniture, under
ice boxes and stolen cheese while radios hum,
televisions murmur and people
shout, fight, then disappear.

They remember
lynchings and
mutilations, signs
of Jim Crow
etched onto
buildings. Explosions
washing towns
away. Brothers,
fathers disappeared. Sisters,
mothers spoiled. Children
sheltering
self-hatred
sharp
and rusty.
Cut
jagged
and uneven
slices of their souls.
Slap on cheap, white bread.
Bite but do
not taste this
meal. It is born of
swampy Louisiana nights
framed by stars
tucked inside snake heads,
holding court over
South
Side Chicago
streets.



Katherine Lutz: "I hold a B.A. in Biology and Spanish from Wellesley College and a M.S. in Science Journalism from Boston University. I am a longtime, Boston-based science and health writer and a more recent poet."




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