Poem of the Day, April 18: Incident, Natasha Tretheway

Through elegiac verse that honors her mother and tells of her own fraught childhood, Natasha Trethewey confronts the racial legacy of her native Deep South–where one of the first black regiments, the Louisiana Native Guards, was called into service during the Civil War. Trethewey’s resonant and beguiling collection is a haunting conversation between personal experience and national history.

Natasha Tretheway is the Charles Howard Candler Professor of English and Creative Writing at Emory University. Native Guard, her third collection of poetry, received the 2007 Pulitzer Prize, and her most recent collection is Thrall. She was born on Confederate Memorial Day, one hundred years to the day after that holiday was established.

The 19th US Poet Laureate (2012-14), Natasha was the keynote poet at Journal Conference 2016 in Asheville NC, where she mesmerized an entire room with her powerful reading of poems documenting the experience of growing up biracial in the south. This pantoum captures the horror of an event from her early childhood.


Incident

We tell the story every year–
how we peered from the windows, shades drawn–
though nothing really happened,
the charred grass now green again.

We peered from the windows, shades drawn,
at the cross trussed like a Christmas tree,
the charred grass still green. Then
we darkened our rooms, lit the hurricane lamps,
their wicks trembling in their fonts of oil

At the cross trussed like a Christmas tree,
a few men gathered, white as angels in their gowns.
We darkened our rooms, lit the hurricane lamps,
their wicks trembling in their fonts of oil

It seemed the angels had gathered, white men in their gowns.
When they were done, they left quietly. No one came.
The wicks trembled all night in their fonts of oil;
by morning the flames had all dimmed.

When they were done, the men left quietly. No one came.
Nothing really happened.
By morning the flames had dimmed.
We tell the story every year.

-Natasha Tretheway

(c)in the name of the poet or assigns. Used for educational purposes and for the promotion of the poet and personal growth of the reader.

Journal Prompt:

Write about a story that your family tells over and over.

 

 

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