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.

they do.

 

***

 

wand the sage. dear woman,

I’m eighteen. I’m ready.

 

here, jealous thing—girl.

gear. almost a sphere

 

spun, luminous

into a star. my child, she said,

 

your name is a mnemon—in one

hundred eighty-two years only—

 

the mnemonic remainder.

 

Notes:

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