© Rain P. C. Goméz
Used by permission.
All rights reserved.
“In appearance, manner, and form she is not ‘black’; her blackness must be written upon her . . . Indeed, it is the purpose of the octoroon to pose (as) the problem of racial discernment.”
This is a poem for Uncle Jim
Who made love to me Sundays after church.
After church called it
making love —
His hand over my mouth.
Over my mouth,
his hand after church.
Lips blushed first from petal pink
To crimson hush, turning purple under
Heavy, thin-fingered white blue marbled hand —
’Til bottom lip split like overripe plums hitting
Red dirt soil in too soon summer.
’Til I am split overripe plum.
Blushing first time he told me to
Call him Tonton Jim.
Making relations with a white man,
Law making man, traveling man, whose
Tobacco spit hits red dirt soil.
Who hits red dirt soil
Who hit red.
Used to wave to me
Calling me to his side when he saw
Me walking down the street.
His favorite niece,
“Petite nièce pale.”
His favorite, as fairly fetching as any
Octoroon in Mahogany Hall — dark hair
Pinned high, face protected under wide brim
Hat — So as not to yellow my slightly
Tea stained porcelain complexion.
Kept the line taunt.
Taunt as his hands over my breasts
Which he coveted —
For their fullness, their paleness,
Their secret forbidden history.
Over my breasts his hands
Keeping the line taunt.
Refused to acknowledge my sister,
She, who resembled too much,
Our dark Chahta grandmother —
Too much remembrance of
West Africa in Creole
Blood of our Mother
Pretended I was abandoned
Like his own children left wandering
Along Calcasieu and Red Rivers . . .
Their dark mothers silent as bayou waters
From too much
too much, too much . . .
- Discernment. Kein, Sybil. Creole: the History and Legacy of Louisiana’s Free People of Color. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 2000. — Author’s note.
- “La jeune fille noire — L’Indien, sauvage.” French meaning: The black girl, the Indian savage. Sauvage was also a racial distnction used in French colonial rule to codify those of Native lineage. — Author’s note.
- Femme de couleur libres. Free woman of color. Used to designate African Americans who were not slaves.
Text prepared by:
- Bruce R. Magee
Goméz, Rain Prud’homme-Cranford. “Poème pour Tonton Jim.” Reflections on Natasha Trethewey: A Future Earth Vol. 5 Bonus Special 2012. <http://www. african african.com/ folder13/ african and african american history/ Natasha Trethewey/ DJ_YOURSELF_ Special_Tribute _to_Poet_Laureate_ Natasha_ Trethewey.pdf> An earlier draft of this poem appeared in Tidal Basin Review Spring, 2011. Copyright © Rain P. C. Goméz. Used by permission. All rights reserved.