Madame Marguerite Joséphine Jean-Louis Pierry (f.w.c.)
“belle-presente” for my 4th great-grandmother born around 1792 in Spanish Colonial Louisiana
In 1876 Marguerite Joséphine Pierry (née Jean-Louis) won her petition to the Second District Court of the Parish of New Orleans to become the administratrix of her husband’s estate after creditors attempted to seize their property on Bayou St. John.
appear pregnant, I dare
myself, mum in the mirror.
it’s eighteen thirty-four,
that woman said, when a guerre
and a girl disappear in a swirl.
an age from now, she said,
in clouded crystal. fortunate.
it’s eighteen thirty-eight
already. in our house on St. Jean
my children, they promise me
to sleep: Hippolite, little Marie,
and Francois, the last of whom
will watch this room as if some
stellar phenomena should pass through—
as though it’s eighteen ten again, and I
at that moment when she showed me
they’re mine. like a helium star, I’ll guide
them, until gangs of men appear,
garish in gore, resigned to settle a score.
at eighty years old, years after
ma marié gives himself
to God, I’ll go
through his papers, signatures,
a legal Louisiana just
to replicate this innate sense
of passing on. this rite.
I must right it. I do.
a guerre. my sons and daughter
sit inside and appear stagnant
as white men away the furniture—
as we yield our receipts (once claimed
unfit to read)
to the Second District Court of New Orleans.
I can read
a man’s face well enough when I say
our name correctly, which I see
these men misspell intentionally, thinking
their tools will fell us, thinking
the letters, my name, will not
impress in a woman’s hand.
wand the sage. dear woman,
I’m eighteen. I’m ready.
here, jealous thing—girl.
gear. almost a sphere
into a star. my child, she said,
your name is a mnemon—in one
hundred eighty-two years only—
the mnemonic remainder.
While both Marguerite and her husband, Pierre, are listed on the United States Federal Census Record of 1850 as being unable to read or write, the organization and specificity of Pierre Pierry’s succession papers, which are composed of hundreds of receipts and documents dating as far back as 1811, suggest otherwise.
Additionally, “Pierry” is one of many spellings of this family’s surname. Others include: Pierré, Pierrie, Pieri, Pierre, Piere, and etc.
*previous version of this poem published in Sundog Lit