Pokeloken

The house where I grew up had back yard that ended with some woods. Like any boy living on the edge of the woods, I spent a lot of time there. It wasn’t a forest; they ended up making it into three lots and built houses on them, leaving only a few trees to mark the property line.

Most of the trees at the edge were sumac, as I recall, which are not great trees to have in your front yard, but have intense red leaves in the fall. They grow in any and all directions, and don’t seem to understand the concept of a trunk, and they produce seed pods that are a little like pine cones. But let’s call them hand grenades, since that’s what they were to us boys. Between the sticks that became guns and the hand grenades in season, those trees were like little weapon factories.

Photo of me in my home town. Likely not far from some pokeweed. Unlikely that I caught any fish.

Another plant that I remember seeing a lot of is something called pokeberry, or pokeweed. It was as tall as a bush, but not woody at all. The stems were reddish or even purple, and the berries got almost black when they were ripe. And if you smashed them against your clothes as you ran by, or against your friend as he ran by, they left vibrant purple evidence of the encounter.

But they are poisonous to humans, and most other mammals. Birds love them (also leaving purple evidence) and are not harmed by them. But it’s not just the berries that are poison, it’s the whole plant, and the root is the worst. And although the leaves are poisonous, they are actually eaten in the rural South after boiling and rinsing three times, and frying in bacon fat (of course). It’s supposed to taste something like spinach. And the plant is called poke salad, or polk salad, and you have probably heard Elvis sing “Polk Salad Annie”, by Tony Joe White, about a poor Louisiana girl who picked “a mess” of polk salad every day to feed her family.

All of which leads me to the question of whether the word pokeloken (poke-loke-n), which refers to marshy or stagnant water that has branched off from a stream or lake, is related to pokeweed, or related to pocket. Or maybe they have some common heritage. But if you have the Polk Salad Annie song going in your head, and you think about pokeloken, there’s a rhythm to it that makes it seem like it fits. Do you think there could be some marshy or stagnant water down in Louisiana where poor folks find things to eat?

Published by Jamie

Corporate teleworker. Small business owner/entrepreneur. Son, Brother, Husband, Father, Grandfather. Blogger. Photographer.

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