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