Slow Down with the Lyrical Poem 'Going Home: New Orleans' by Sheryl St. Germain

Slow Down with the Lyrical Poem 'Going Home: New Orleans' by Sheryl St. Germain

Thursday, 23 February, 2023

This poem by New Orleans poet Sheryl St. Germain sings of soft, quiet evenings and the joyous, seering details that make home feel like home.

It’s from the collection Let It Be a Dark Roux (published by the excellent Autumn House Press, a nonprofit literary publisher based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania). The poems share St. Germain’s impressions of growing up in New Orleans, the challenges of being a woman, and the heritage of Cajun/Creole culture.

In an interview, she said, ‘Writing — especially poetry writing — helps me to lay things out in all their complexity. Here is the thing in all its horror and ambiguity, and maybe there is a small insight that comes out of that. It helps me to imagine other sides of a story, imagine what might have been, honor grief and darkness.’

This poem is dedicated to her grandmother Theresa Frank.


Going Home: New Orleans — Sheryl St. Germain

  • Some slow evenings when the light hangs late and stubborn in the sky,
  • gives itself up to darkness slowly and deliberately, slow cloud after slow cloud,
  • slowness enters me like something familiar,
  • and it feels like going home.

  • It’s all there in the disappearing light:
  • all the evenings of slow sky and slow loving, slow boats on sluggish bayous;
  • the thick-middled trees with the slow-sounding names—oak, mimosa, pecan, magnolia;
  • the slow tree sap that sticks in your hair when you lie with the trees;
  • and the maple syrup and pancakes and grits, the butter melting
  • slowly into and down the sides like sweat between breasts of sloe-eyed strippers;
  • and the slow-throated blues that floats over the city like fog;
  • and the weeping, the willows, the cut onions, the cayenne, the slow-cooking beans with marrow-thick gravy;
  • and all the mint juleps drunk so slowly on all the slow southern porches,
  • the bourbon and sugar and mint going down warm and brown, syrup and slow;
  • and all the ice cubes melting in all the iced teas,
  • all the slow-faced people sitting in all the slowly rocking rockers;
  • and the crabs and the shrimp and crawfish, the hard shells
  • slowly and deliberately and lovingly removed, the delicate flesh
  • slowly sucked out of heads and legs and tails;
  • and the slow lips that eat and drink and love and speak
  • that slow luxurious language, savoring each word like a long-missed lover;
  • and the slow-moving nuns, the black habits dragging the swollen ground;
  • and the slow river that cradles it all, and the chicory coffee
  • that cuts through it all, slow-boiled and black as dirt;
  • and the slow dreams and the slow-healing wounds and the slow smoke of it all
  • slipping out, ballooning into the sky—slow, deliberate, and magnificent.

About Sheryl St. Germain

Sheryl St. Germain is a native of New Orleans, a poet, an essayist, and a fiber artist. She was a teacher for decades — The University of Texas at Dallas, The University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Knox College, Iowa State University, and Chatham University — and is the co-founder and former Director of the Words Without Walls Program, a program to teach creative writing in prisons, jails, and rehabilitation centers.

When she retired from teaching in 2019, she bought a sewing machine and learned how to quilt. In her artist statement, she wrote, ‘I am drawn to that which is broken and stitched. A life in a community of recovery has led me to see the force and beauty of the wounded who have survived. The stitched line like a scar. Striving to make music, in cloth or words, out of that which is broken.’

See more of Sheryl St. Germain’s writing and art onher website.

Top image courtesy of Pierre Jean Durieu/Shutterstock.

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