Lafayette city marshal follows poetry muse

Earl “Nickey” Picard was on his way to work Thursday morning when the lines popped into his head.

“Me and God, we talk every day.

“We pause a while, take time to pray.”

Lafayette’s city marshal pulled off Moss Street and into the U.S. Post Office parking lot to write down the words. He said it’s been that way since he was a young man, through the years having to stop in mid-task to jot down the thoughts he’d later wrestle into poems that are heartfelt and literal, some almost prayers.

“When I get back home tonight, I’ll go to my computer and do my thing,” Picard said.

Raised in Lafayette, Picard grew up to be a soldier, then police officer, then city marshal for Lafayette, an elected post he’s held since 1984.

He’s been elected to five terms, three of them uncontested, for the job whose chief mission is to get people who have been charged with minor crimes and driving while alcohol-impaired to court. Picard’s people retrieve them whether they’re in Scott or, as in the case of a current fugitive, in Saginaw, Mich.

Now 81, Picard’s written work has never been published in a book, but has appeared in pamphlets for insurance companies and law enforcement agencies such as the State Police, where Picard was a trooper from 1953 to 1964.

Picard joined the National Guard at 16 to earn a steady paycheck and wed his 15-year-old sweetheart, Jeanette, when he was 17. He’s continued writing through the years, with work always a theme, God always nearby and Jeanette still running the house, he said.

Some of his poetry attempts to conveys the sights, sounds and smells he experienced as a trooper on road patrols coming upon a wreck caused by a drunken driver.

“Did You?” is one such poem, printed and distributed by Pan American Fire & Casualty Company in 1950s.

“Did you ever see an accident?

“Where bodies as well as steel were bent?”

Other works — “My Thanksgiving Prayer,” “The Kid Behind the Wheel,” “A National Disgrace”— convey similar themes about drunken drivers.

So does “That Man, His Car, That Bottle of Booze,” written in 1955 about a drunk who crashed his car through a Vermilion Parish bridge railing and drowned in the cold water below, news Picard had to relay to the man’s wife.

“That man, a bar, his day’s work done

“Time for a drink no harm in just one …”

Picard will run next fall for a sixth term as Lafayette city marshal, an announcement he made on May 29. Marshals, like judges and district attorneys, serve six-year terms. So far, no one has announced plans to run against him.

Picard, who present term in office will end Dec. 31, 2014, would be 89 at the end of a sixth six-year term on Dec. 31, 2020.

Picard’s office, tucked away in the rear of the Lafayette City Court building, is filled with mementos of his life.

Along with a replica “Tommy Gun,” like the one he was issued when he was in the National Guard, are plaques he’s been awarded over the years for police work and for composing poems about wearing a badge.

Photos of him as a young man in military and police uniform, standing with his now-gone brothers, sit on tables.

He’s outlived his brothers, which he said is because he stays mentally and physically active, and because he has a healthy respect for the heart disease that runs in his family.

He also said he listens when his muse calls, wherever that might be.

“When it hits you, you pull over and write,” Picard said.