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