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Rain Prud’homme-Cranford Goméz.
“Poème pour Tonton Jim.”

© 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,

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.

Uncle Jim

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.

Uncle Jim

Kept the line taunt.

Taunt as his hands over my breasts

Which he coveted —

For their fullness, their paleness,

Their secret forbidden history.

My breasts,

Over my breasts his hands

Keeping the line taunt.

Uncle Jim

Refused to acknowledge my sister,

“La jeune fille noire — L’Indien, sauvage.”

She, who resembled too much,

Our dark Chahta grandmother —

Too much remembrance of

West Africa in Creole

Blood of our Mother

Femme de couleur libres.

Uncle Jim

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 . . .

Tonton Jim.


  1. Discernment. Kein, Sybil. Creole: the History and Legacy of Louisiana’s Free People of Color. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 2000. — Author’s note.
  2. “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.
  3. Femme de couleur libres. Free woman of color. Used to designate African Americans who were not slaves.

Text prepared by:


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.

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