how the past comes back


How the Past Comes Back
Natasha Trethewey

Like shadow across a stone,
the name it darkens;

as one enters the world
through language–
like a child learning to speak
then naming
everything; as flower,

the neglected hydrangea
endlessly blossoming–
year after year
each bloom a blue refrain; as

the syllables of birdcall
coalescing in the trees,
a single word:

as the dead bird’s bright signature–
days after you buried it–
a single red feather
on the window glass

in the middle of your reflection.

Photo by Taylor Smith on Unsplash



Natasha Trethewey

I was asleep while you were dying.
It’s as if you slipped through some rift, a hollow
I make between my slumber and my waking,
the Erebus I keep you in, still trying
not to let go. You’ll be dead again tomorrow,
but in dreams you live. So I try taking
you back into morning. Sleep-heavy, turning,
my eyes open, I find you do not follow.
Again and again, this constant forsaking.
Again and again, this constant forsaking:
my eyes open, I find you do not follow.
You back into morning, sleep-heavy, turning.
But in dreams you live. So I try taking,
not to let go. You’ll be dead again tomorrow.
The Erebus I keep you in—still, trying—
I make between my slumber and my waking.
It’s as if you slipped through some rift, a hollow.
I was asleep while you were dying.


after your death


After Your Death
Natasha Trethewey

First, I emptied the closets of your clothes,
threw out the bowl of fruit, bruised
from your touch, left empty the jars

you bought for preserves. The next morning,
birds rustled the fruit trees, and later
when I twisted a ripe fig loose from its stem,

I found it half eaten, the other side
already rotting, or—like another I plucked
and split open—being taken from the inside:

a swarm of insects hollowing it. I’m too late,
again, another space emptied by loss.
Tomorrow, the bowl I have yet to fill.

Photo by Łukasz Rawa on Unsplash



Natasha Trethewey

For my father

I think by now the river must be thick
        with salmon. Late August, I imagine it
as it was that morning: drizzle needling
        the surface, mist at the banks like a net
settling around us — everything damp
        and shining. That morning, awkward
and heavy in our hip waders, we stalked
        into the current and found our places —
you upstream a few yards and out
        far deeper. You must remember how
the river seeped in over your boots
        and you grew heavier with that defeat.
All day I kept turning to watch you, how
        first you mimed our guide’s casting
then cast your invisible line, slicing the sky
        between us; and later, rod in hand, how
you tried — again and again — to find
        that perfect arc, flight of an insect
skimming the river’s surface. Perhaps
        you recall I cast my line and reeled in
two small trout we could not keep.
        Because I had to release them, I confess,
I thought about the past — working
        the hooks loose, the fish writhing
in my hands, each one slipping away
        before I could let go. I can tell you now
that I tried to take it all in, record it
        for an elegy I’d write — one day —
when the time came. Your daughter,
        I was that ruthless. What does it matter
if I tell you I learned to be? You kept casting
        your line, and when it did not come back
empty, it was tangled with mine. Some nights,
        dreaming, I step again into the small boat
that carried us out and watch the bank receding —
        my back to where I know we are headed.


Photo by Tim Foster on Unsplash

theories of time and space


Theories of Time and Space
Natasha Trethewey

You can get there from here, though
there’s no going home.

Everywhere you go will be somewhere
you’ve never been. Try this:

head south on Mississippi 49, one—
by—one mile markers ticking off

another minute of your life. Follow this
to its natural conclusion—dead end

at the coast, the pier at Gulfport where
riggings of shrimp boats are loose stitches

in a sky threatening rain. Cross over
the man-made beach, 26 miles of sand

dumped on a mangrove swamp—buried
terrain of the past. Bring only

what you must carry—tome of memory
its random blank pages. On the dock

where you board the boat for Ship Island,
someone will take your picture:

the photograph—who you were—
will be waiting when you return



Natasha Trethewey

We mourn the broken things, chair legs
wrenched from their seats, chipped plates,
the threadbare clothes. We work the magic
of glue, drive the nails, mend the holes.
We save what we can, melt small pieces
of soap, gather fallen pecans, keep neck bones
for soup. Beating rugs against the house,
we watch dust, lit like stars, spreading
across the yard. Late afternoon, we draw
the blinds to cool the rooms, drive the bugs
out. My mother irons, singing, lost in reverie.
I mark the pages of a mail-order catalog,
listen for passing cars. All day we watch
for the mail, some news from a distant place.


Photo by Dan-Cristian Pădureț on Unsplash




Natasha Trethewey

Always there is something more to know

what lingers at the edge of thought

awaiting illumination as in

this second-hand book full

of annotations daring the margins in pencil

a light stroke as if

the writer of these small replies

meant not to leave them forever

meant to erase

evidence of this private interaction

Here a passage underlined there

a single star on the page

as in a night sky cloud-swept and hazy

where only the brightest appears

a tiny spark I follow

its coded message try to read in it

the direction of the solitary mind

that thought to pencil in

a jagged arrow It

is a bolt of lightning

where it strikes

I read the line over and over

as if I might discern

the little fires set

the flames of an idea licking the page

how knowledge burns Beyond

the exclamation point

its thin agreement angle of surprise

there are questions the word why

So much is left
untold Between

the printed words and the self-conscious scrawl

between what is said and not

white space framing the story

the way the past unwritten

eludes us So much

is implication the afterimage

of measured syntax always there

ghosting the margins that words

their black-lined authority

do not cross Even

as they rise up to meet us

the white page hovers beneath

silent incendiary waiting

Photo by Anirban Ghosh on Unsplash