Oscar Joseph LeBlanc & Ophelia Louise Washington  

“beau présent” for my great-grandfather born in New Orleans in 1888 & my great-grandmother born in Haiti around 1891

The parents of Lillian Lucille Stella LeBlanc, my paternal grandmother, lived together as common-law husband and wife in New Orleans for a little over ten years. Oscar spent the last twenty-four years of his life institutionalized at the East Louisiana State Hospital for the Insane. Some say he’d been hexed by a voodoo lady in their neighborhood who kept and cursed the band of his hat. Alternate sources suggest Ophelia struck him in the head with a cast-iron skillet, while others note that Oscar, perfectly sane, was held at the hospital against his will, as a source of free labor.

 

listen. the neighboring spirit ate

through his hat. put LeBlanc, Oscar J

 

who is less and less a substance

to ingest at this point in the ritual—

 

in East Louisiana State to waste,

where we are wont to plague.

 

listen. the neighbor, the incantation, was

strong, stronger than a single spirit’s. so

 

tell us who—how can a pistol, pearl

or not, help Ophelia. help Oscar?

 

in Louisiana and Haiti, a hat is a hat

is a hat? bitter? is the ash Ophelia’s

 

ghost? we taste now.

one of Lillian’s sons has a little

 

one: Shaina. now,

Ophelia, slip us a piece

 

of paper—people in gris

et blanc. signs, once begotten,

 

begin again and again in a hearer,

though—one can last. those who

 

hear can’t see through the hospital

walls. the rasp. we spirits operate, sign

 

contraries, can recall. Ophelia?

no one slips through these people, this

 

paper, or can use a patient so.

but a beast? at least, til our potion

 

reaps one—til hue of ghost-pallor.

to bitter ash.

 

*previous version of this poem published in Yemassee Journal