is a place to share a favorite poem about Louisiana or by a Louisiana poet. If you have a favorite poem, or find one on this site that resonates with you, please e-mail louisianapoetryproject@gmail.com with the title of the poem and the reason why it is a favorite. If we have the rights to post that poem, we will post it along with your comments. If we don’t have the rights and cannot secure them, we will just post your response.

Here are some of our favorites.

Scratch by Darrell Bourque

I have a thousand favorite poems, and Darrell Bourque’s “Scratch” is among them. I pictured the left side of the shotgun house I called home as a child as I listened to him reading it. In the second room, one cedar chifforobe’s lock worked, one didn’t. I also remember my brother carving his initials into the one with no lock, and swearing that “EC” was not him. I don’t remember his punishment, just the fact that I still tease him after all these years. –Jan Ellis


Since that afternoon years ago
when my mother put us on our knees
and told us she was leaving,
I have placed myself in the world,
measured myself against the horizon,
let the sky cover me like some angel bird
hovering. I have seen wide ribbons
of pine making a trot-line at the earth’s edge.
I have studied things up close: stunted trees
growing out of rock. I have gone beyond
tree lines where grasses open seedpods
like prayers. I have stood at the water’s
edge and wobbled, and still no one
knows who knifed the unreadable lettering
on my mother’s new cedar chifferobe
that day. She and my father drove to town
to buy garfish for our usual Friday supper
at my aunt’s house. We were questioned again
on her return but no one confessed—through
the fish cleaning, the seasoning, the frying.
I can’t remember when exactly we laughed
and ran through the yard with our cousins.
It was night when we went home. We were happy.
Just last week, some fifty years later,
one of us brings it up in mother’s
presence. She has not walked for years
and it is no big matter to her now,
but none of us are fessing up today either.
We all know who didn’t do it,
and one of us knows who did.

Darrell Bourque
from his book Call and Response
Used by permission of the poet

Jubilee by Patricia A. Ward

“Jubilee”is my favorite poem because it reminds me that no matter what people go through, we are made to have resilient spirits and a celebration always lives in our heart. Thanks Aunt Pat. -Nedra Ward


We brought it over
roiling in our mouths,
etched on tongues, many languages.
We picked up new beats
as we walked miles, far
from home, disturbing
woods with our chains.

Whatever you call it,
we picked up new
beats along the bloodied sand
that clung to the bottoms
of our feet as we were
herded aboard.
New rhythms held us
crushed together,
bewildered by the
ocean’s swell, its boom,
crash, and setting down

Sundays, New Orleans,
Congo Square—we created music
using instruments our hands designed.
We composed a jubilant sound
from a rhyme and a word,
from the fields of our common sorrow,
from the big house where we learned
the shuffle we turned into a strut.

Those Sunday afternoons
we improvised are now
our Sunday’s for snapping fingers,
clapping hands and stomping feet
until jubilation reaches
back home,
some pain still
roiling in our mouths.

Patricia A. Ward
from her book Three Poets in New Orleans
Xavier Review Press, 2000

used with permission of the poet

Bone Fire by Darrell Bourque

I really have several favorite poets but Darrell is my choice. I have known Darrell Bourque as a person and poet since the 1990s. He has always been accessible and given great retreats and master classes. My favorite poem of his is from The Blue Boat collection. The title is “Bone Fire.” I love the humor in the section that talks to his mother’s concern about him losing weight. I heard him read this poem in 2004 or 2005 and I loved the inflections in his voice when he read it. I also love how the poem was crafted to fit the quote at the beginning.—Alice Lewis

Bone Fire

I am the ritual action, I the sacrifice,
I the food-oblation, I the fire-giving herb,
the mantra, I the butter, I the flame,
and the offering too I am.

“Works, devotions, and Knowledge,” Bhagvad Gita

for Parvathy Anantnarayan

My wife’s new teacher is Indian.
He tells her the first thing in the morning
to whirl like dervishes. When she stops,
he tells her to bring her hands together
before her face, to look at her thumbs
until the world stops spinning.
He tells her to do this three times.
Then there are five other things he says
she must do. She will grow old more slowly
doing this he tells her.

At the beginning of each day we try
to take darkness off our bodies.
Give ourselves naked to the light.

Every year we pledge part of our mass
to whatever is larger than we are.

All summer we burn like patchouli
in one neighbor’s garden, the basil in another.

My friends Cindy and Luis have taken to
calling me Bubba. My nieces called me
Uncle Bubba before they called me any other
name. My sister calls me Bub when she wants
to be most endearing. There’s something
in that name I should come to call holy,
as unimaginable as that might seem to me now.

I have never been thin. No one
in my family, on both sides, is thin
but I married a slim woman, loved her
nearly all my life now. Her mother is slim.
I once came relatively close to being slim.
My mother thought I was dying and told me so.

Winters my wife sleeps very close to me.
Says I am fire she needs. Her feet drift
toward me slowly, like gelid fish drifting
under ice.

I like to think of large thick roots
of the four o’clocks in our garden.
Mirabilis jalapa the scientists call these,
but this is a plant with no pretensions
to anything but small beauty, its flower
a small petalless spot, its emissary
quiet perfume for ground, wind, blue
in sky, even for the sharp silver air, latter
arrivant spinning in like holiness every year.

Darrell Bourque

Used by permission of the poet.

Quietism by Darrell Bourque

I appreciate the stillness Darrell Bourque’s poem, “Quietism” creates. It gives me a place to go, like a little nook, and reflect. —Alice Murchison

Quietism—first line from Naomi Shihab Nye’s
“Walking Down Blanco Road at Midnight”
It happens in a quiet place.
If too much is moving around,
you never get to see the thin line
of red flickering above the horizon
just before sunrises or just after
sunset—some tag of fire or herald
of no sound whatsoever.
There is a moment when all leave
the table but something still breathes
as fat congeals on plates left behind.
The big chair in the yard near the oak
lived in the silence of trees in forests.
The tools put up in the winter shed,
silent in their work and in their rest.
An audiologist’s finest instrument
might never record the calla lily’s
slow, long, unfolding song.Darrell BourqueUsed by permission of the poet.

The Burning of New Orleans by John Gery

This portion from John Gery’s poem “The Burning of New Orleans” speaks to me, especially the ending. I want to “dance with truth, confusion, blindness, histories, fidelities, and kindness.” This poem has taken on a different meaning to me since 2005. I remember a different, but no less devastating, leaving of New Orleans and seeing that same naked bareness in the people in the cars next to ours.  —Laurie Williams

from The Burning of New Orleans

Crowds were gathering at every landing
far enough upriver from the bonfires
to be safe, while riverboats were loading
twice as many passengers as legal—
groups of children, women, and their servants,
each with his or her own rucksack.
As though they had practiced this migration
often, they were orderly and quiet,
boarding the boats systematically.
Telling me this, Bressie started crying:
“Like the others, I was hypnotized
by those clouds of smoke above the water
drifting from the north, by that red twilight
in the distance, glimmering, the stupor
of the panicked families and servants
edging to the landings where the steamers
one by one, received their lifeless cargo.
Where did we think we were going, David?”
After pausing, she continued, “Naked,
as we loaded on that steamer, naked.
Yet not caring what we seemed to strangers.
Horror tears one’s manners off, like clothing.
All was sauve qui peut. Yet not a child,
not a child made a sound—no crying,
no complaining—we were all too frightened,
too ashamed, too numb to take much notice.
Somewhere in our mass imagination
all of us had made this journey, felling
from the sanctuary of our houses
into nowhere . . .
I remember walking
what was an ordinary evening
maybe six months earlier, with Helen,
down St. Charles to the Tivoli.
It was breezy, not quite cool for October,
and the omnibus approached the circle
where fifteen or twenty people got off
to disperse. But suddenly the wind stirred,
knocking from the men and several women
their hats—bonnets of every description,
derbies, caps, and scarves—in all directions.
I held on to mine, but Helen’s blew off,
tumbling toward the gutter. She was outraged!
Funny, I remember all this better
than that night we left New Orleans.
Anyway, I watched the crowd in panic
lunge for hats and bonnets, desperately
like a flock of headless chickens, tripping
over curbstones, arms extended, grasping
at the empty air, as hats continued flying
wildly and free. I started chasing
any hat that blew near me, my body,
Helen’s body, all our bodies running
bare, as though the wind had ripped our clothes off,
not our hats alone. And we weren’t chasing,
we were dancing, we were marionettes
dangling mindlessly beneath the clouds
who tugged at us with their long strings. Diving
after some poor woman’s feathered bonnet,
I fell to the ground. My skirts went flying
like a flower blossom in the cold wind,
but I wasn’t injured. Then with both lips
I pressed lightly on the ground. I kissed it!
No one noticed, I don’t think, but after,
after, I got up and went to Helen,
after we’d chased down what hats we could
and returned home, I could not but wonder
why I hadn’t looked more closely at them,
all those undressed bodies, dancing, dancing
gloriously underneath that white sky.
Later, when I saw them on that steamer,
those same bodies, children now, and women,
but still naked strangers, I was thinking,
this is how it is when we’re together—
not quite visible, yet not quite nothing.
Were we not together, we’d be nothing,
yet together we remain in darkness.
How can we see who we are? I ask you,
how can we see who we are?”

I held her.
But I couldn’t understand her. Furies,
help me. Tear away my hat and clothes.
Tear from me this staid imagination.
Lift my arms and legs and break me, break me.
Memory, stay near and permeate me:
Like the puppeteer, you must create me,
let me dance with truth, confusion blindness,
histories, fidelities, and kindness.

John Gery

Used by permission of the poet.