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A poem by Natasha Trethewey, next US poet laureate

(AP) – A poem by Natasha Trethewey, the next U.S. poet laureate at the Library of Congress, from her 2007 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “Native Guard.”

Elegy for the Native Guards

Now that the salt of their blood

Stiffens the saltier oblivion of the sea . . .

_Allen Tate

We leave Gulfport at noon; gulls overhead

trailing the boat_streamers, noisy fanfare_

all the way to Ship Island. What we see

first is the fort, its roof of grass, a lee_

half reminder of the men who served there_

a weathered monument to some of the dead.

Inside we follow the ranger, hurried

though we are to get to the beach. He tells

of graves lost in the Gulf, the island split

in half when Hurricane Camille hit,

shows us casemates, cannons, the store that sells

souvenirs, tokens of history long buried.

The Daughters of the Confederacy

has placed a plaque here, at the fort’s entrance_

each Confederate soldier’s name raised hard

in bronze; no names carved for the Native Guards_

2nd Regiment, Union men, black phalanx.

What is monument to their legacy?

All the grave markers, all the crude headstones_

water-lost. Now fish dart among their bones,

and we listen for what the waves intone.

Only the fort remains, near forty feet high,

round, unfinished, half open to the sky,

the elements_wind, rain_God’s deliberate eye.

___

A poem from Trethewey’s coming book, “Thrall.”

Bird in the House

A gift, you said, when we found it.

And because my mother was dead,

I thought the cat had left it for me. The bird

was black as omen, like a single crow

meaning sorrow. It was the year

you’d remarried, summer_

the fields high and the pond reflecting

everything: the willow, the small dock,

the crow overhead that_doubled_

should have been an omen for joy.

Forgive me, Father, that I brought to that house

my grief. You will not recall telling me

you could not understand my loss, not until

your own mother died. Each night I’d wake

from a dream, my heart battering my rib cage_

a trapped, wild bird. I did not know then

the cat had brought in a second grief: what was it

but animal knowledge? Forgive me

that I searched for meaning in everything

you did, that I watched you bury the bird

in the backyard_your back to me; I saw you

flatten the mound, erasing it into the dirt.

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