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Poems by Natasha Trethewey


In 1965 my parents broke two laws of Mississippi;
they went to Ohio to marry, returned to Mississippi.
They crossed the river into Cincinnati, a city whose name
begins with a sound like sin, the sound of wrong, mis in Mississippi.
A year later they moved to Canada, followed a route the same
as slaves, the train slicing the white glaze of winter, leaving Mississippi.
Faulkner's Joe Christmas was born in winter, like Jesus, given his name
for the day he was left at the orphanage, his race unknown in Mississippi.
My father was reading War and Peace when he gave me my name.
I was born near Easter, 1966, in Mississippi.
When I turned 33 my father said, It's your Jesus year -- you're the same
age he was when he died.
It was spring, the hills green in Mississippi.
I know more than Joe Christmas did. Natasha is a Russian name--
though I'm not; it means Christmas child, even in Mississippi. 

What Is Evidence

Not the fleeting bruises she'd cover
with makeup, a dark patch as if imprint
of a scope she'd pressed her eye too close to,
looking for a way out , nor the quiver
in the voice she'd steady, leaning
into a pot of bones on the stove, Not
the teeth she wore in place of her own, or
the official document-- its seal
and smeared signature-- fading already,
the edges wearing. Not the tiny marker
with its dates, her name, abstract as history.
Only the landscape of her body--splintered
clavicle, pierced temporal-- her thin bones
settling a bit each day, the way all things do.


In the dream, I am with the Fugitive
Poets. We've gathered for a photograph.
Behind us, the skyline of Atlanta
hidden by a photographer's backdrop--
a lush pasture, green, full of soft-eyed cows
lowing a chant that sounds like no, no. Yes,
I say to the glass of bourbon I am offered.
We're lining up now -- Robert Penn Warren,
his voice just audible above the drone
of bulldozers, telling us where to stand.
Say "race,"  the photographer croons. I'm in
blackface again when the flash freezes us.
My father's white, I tell them, and rural.
You don't hate the South? they ask. You don't hate it?

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