Josephine Ruth Walker

“belle présente” for my great-grandmother born in St. Francisville, Louisiana in 1904

According to stories, Josephine Walker (née Ruth) left her son, Isaiah, and two daughters in St. Francisville with their paternal grandparents: Christiana, a washerwoman, and Isaiah Washington Sr., a Baptist preacher. Said to have been searching for her children’s father: Isaiah “Papou” Washington Jr. (Isaiah’s namesake), she returned fifteen years later to find her children grown with families in New Orleans. Whether she ever found their father remains unknown.


wake her.     shake her

open.     I see her son.


write     that she is not

a saint—not the parish


seraph, who seeks: He-

Who-Is-Not-There. she was


ripe with Isaiah, woke

to whispers:


who eats—

ate—to satiate     one?


hone the truth.     a son

seeks a Ruth.    a prophetess


who returns to his steps.

our sense of kin     I sense


when I wake.     note what

we inherit.     what I want—


*previous version of this poem published in Yemassee Journal