My Father Will Have Two Dozen on the Halfshell — ordering at Phil’s Oyster Bar in Baton Rouge

Gulf oysters are milky, grown fat

in braising seawater. The Gulf’s a warm pool,

on chuffy oil burners, a crockpot

of Guatemalan blood and cajun sauces.

My father spoke of other beds, of blind tongs

groping to a clean salt shoal: Virginia tidewater,

him fresh from the seminary, before he’d failed, asea

with a smiling deacon host in a small boat.

Under their boat, I see an oyster crunch away

from its drowned bed, snapping aloose

like the spring pliers a dentist clamped on my molars

once, and then bumped off with a careless elbow.

Sometimes they just won’t open, he’d tell me,

slumped against his forearms on the metal table.

No matter how you jab at the hinge

with that stubby knife.

He’d eat them with me, at Phil’s, and be obliged.

But mainly he would see the open boat.

The cold Atlantic bitterness. The favor.

Pearls spilling from his mouth like a god’s.

From “Eldest Daughter: Poems,”
(LSU Press 2013)

Ava Leavell Haymon,
Louisiana poet laureate