Jun 7, 2012

'the Yazoo fills the Mississippi's empty bed'

My poetry preferences don't tend towards "laureate," but this -- "Pilgrimage," by Natasha Trethewey, the newly named Poet Laureate, an Emory prof & the 3rd African American to hold the post, the 1st Southerner since Robert Penn Warren in 1986 -- is nonetheless an interesting piece.

Trethewey is writing here about remembering & remembrances, & also the history that's importantly, critically forgotten, & remembering that too.

It's about history: history beatified, & history as trauma, beatified trauma & the trauma of beatification. Which is worth thinking about, if you think about history. It's a way of asking again the question asked here by a beleaguered white woman, a beneficiary of the white supremacy of a system that, at exactly that moment, is being destroyed, & maybe asking that question better: What is to become / of all the living things in this place?

Here, the Mississippi carved
                        its mud-dark path, a graveyard

for skeletons of sunken riverboats.
                        Here, the river changed its course,

turning away from the city
                        as one turns, forgetting, from the past—

the abandoned bluffs, land sloping up
                        above the river's bend—where now

the Yazoo fills the Mississippi's empty bed.
                        Here, the dead stand up in stone, white

marble, on Confederate Avenue. I stand
                        on ground once hollowed by a web of caves;

they must have seemed like catacombs,
                        in 1863, to the woman sitting in her parlor,

candlelit, underground. I can see her
                        listening to shells explode, writing herself

into history, asking what is to become
                        of all the living things in this place?

This whole city is a grave. Every spring—
                        Pilgrimage—the living come to mingle

with the dead, brush against their cold shoulders
                        in the long hallways, listen all night

to their silence and indifference, relive
                        their dying on the green battlefield.

At the museum, we marvel at their clothes—
                        preserved under glass—so much smaller

than our own, as if those who wore them
                        were only children. We sleep in their beds,

the old mansions hunkered on the bluffs, draped
                        in flowers—funereal—a blur

of petals against the river's gray.
                        The brochure in my room calls this

living history. The brass plate on the door reads
                        Prissy's Room. A window frames

the river's crawl toward the Gulf. In my dream,
                        the ghost of history lies down beside me,

rolls over, pins me beneath a heavy arm.