South

Natasha Trethewey Click to read more...

tretheweyNatasha Trethewey was born in Gulfport, Mississippi and now resides in Atlanta, where she serves as the Robert W. Woodruff Professor of English and Creative Writing at Emory University. Her Native Guard received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, and she served a United States Poet Laureate in 20012. She is currently Poet Laureate of Mississippi, and her other books of poetry are Domestic Work, Bellocq’s Ophelia and Thrall. She is also the author of a prose meditation on Katrina.  “South” was first published in Shenandoah 54/1.

South

Homo sapiens is the only species to suffer psychological exile.
				-E.O. Wilson

I returned to a stand of pines,
		bone-thin phalanx

flanking the roadside, tangle
		of understory – a dialectic of dark

and light – and magnolias blossoming
		like afterthought: each flower

a surrender, white flags draped
		among the branches. I returned
to land’s end, the swath of coast
		clear cut and buried in sand –

mangrove, live oak, gulfweed
		razed and replaced by thin palms –

palmettos – symbol of victory
		or defiance, over and over,

marking this vanquished land. I returned
		to a field of cotton, hallowed ground –

as slave legend goes – each boll holding
		the ghosts of generations:

those who measured their days
		by hefts of sacks and lengths of rows,

whose sweat flecked the cotton plants
		still sewn into our clothes.

I returned to a country battlefield
		where colored troops fought and died –

Port Hudson where their bones swelled
		and blackened beneath the sun, unburied

until earth’s green sheet pulled over them,
		unmarked by any headstone.

Where the roads, buildings and monuments
		are named to honor the Confederacy,

where that old flag still hangs, I return
		to Mississippi, state that made a crime

of me – mulatto, half breed – native
		in my native land, this place they’ll bury me.
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