The Oxford English Dictionary identifies bayou as “American French,” from the Choctaw bayuk, and defines it as “the name given (chiefly in the southern States of N. America) to the marshy off-shoots and overflowings of lakes and rivers.” My favorite among the dictionary’s ten citations is drawn from A Narrative of the Life of David Crockett (1834), published by the frontiersman two years before his death at the Alamo: “A small byo, cross which there was a log.” The OED records Crockett’s spelling and these variants: bayoue, bayeau and the plural bayoux.
Another Northerner, Amy Clampitt, wrote “Bayou Afternoon” (A Silence Opens, 1993). I assume she’s describing a scene in Louisiana, but nothing she includes is alien to Houston. All the bird species she catalogs I’ve seen here, fleetingly, but Clampitt’s poem is more than a travelogue or nature journal. From “Out of the imprecise,” she writes, comes “such / specificity.” She cites the spoonbill, “back from / a rim known as extinction.” Our species in Texas and Louisiana is the roseate spoonbill (Platalea ajaja), accurately described by Clampitt as “paintbox– / tinged pink and green.” We too live close to a rim, she reminds us:
“…at the rim we
necessarily inhabit, a happenstance
still brimming, still uncodified.”
Our rim is the boundary between worlds, the physical and what lies beyond, “the muck / of bright and dark.” We move in ignorance toward the “uncodified,” unequipped with binoculars and field guide, hoping for the best.