Patrice Melnick





In this one, plants shrivel dry
The tall big-leafed one gasps
dirt like desert. The house plants
tall, stalky, broad-leafed
all wilt, soil crusts to ash
I water gallons into the pots
of scorched dirt but they drink
and parch immediately.

I can’t satisfy
Why this? I ask the dark.
The next night I burrow
my head into flannel sheets
determined to bring back a dream
of Awa, orange sprays
of pattern running
over her black and orange
wrap skirt. I try to get back
to that one with mangos,
pineapples, rainy months
orange mud rivers running
into rivers of hippos
and water spirits
and Awa.

Wide awake, I stand parched
barefoot at the kitchen sink
calling spirits.
I drink, call,



You tossed that red ball high
onto the tin roof to watch it
bounce, then roll, roll, roll down
caught in midair by your ready hands.

Imagine the sound inside, the bounce
bump, bang irritating
impatient adults. They scolded you
in French, then snatched that ball
to feed into the fire
until flames blazed and smoked,
a searing hunger never satisfied.
There would be no Christmas
orange for you that year.

They could not know
who they were dealing with,
a girl who became a woman
who could perform magic tricks
changing a loaf of bread *poof!*
into fourteen servings of pain
perdu for what seemed like twenty
mouths that fed forty stomachs
and transformed small hungers *poof!*
into explorers and homesteaders
that occupied this land.

They could not know that you
held that red ball inside your
gut from which escaped quiet
flames of song, French hymns,
sweet lullabies, swing tunes
from the radio–melodies
escape your lips like breath.
And now, look at you sporting
your mauve jacket, lips tinted rose.
You balance upon a living room chair
hanging maroon sheers over
sunlit windows to accent a beaded
burgundy lamp that hangs there
suspended from the
ceiling like a memory
caught in mid-air.

Ghosts of the Past Live Here


There are ghosts up here, she told me
Old nuns of the convent, bumping into walls
playing jacks with the rats.

They taught school in long dresses
carried stern rulers
collars buttoned up tight.

She asked me if I heard anything,
Just rain on the roof
the rattling gutters
the air conditioner hum
cutting in and out

She said a book fell off her shelf
said a door closed in the empty hall
said she feels something
in the air around her elbows

I said they must be friendly ghosts
one corrects my grammar
in the late hours

Another spirit whispers ideas into my ear
She tells me what to write now
tells me what to tell you

One shadow woman tells me to button up my collar
Good-night, she says,
carrying some of my books
Tomorrow, more rain, she hums


MELNICK Cheré Dastugue Coen
Photo credit: Cheré Dastugue Coen


Patrice Melnick is the executive director of the Festival of Words, a rural, literary arts organization in Grand Coteau, Louisiana.  Her memoir is entitled Po-boy Contraband: from Diagnosis Back to Life and she is currently working on a poetry collection. Patrice Melnick makes a living working for Opelousas Tourism helping visitors locate boudin and zydeco music.
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