A poem by Natasha Trethewey, the next U.S. poet laureate at the Library of Congress, from her 2007 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, "Native Guard."
Elegy for the Native Guards
Now that the salt of their blood
Stiffens the saltier oblivion of the sea . . .
We leave Gulfport at noon; gulls overhead
trailing the boat_streamers, noisy fanfare_
all the way to Ship Island. What we see
first is the fort, its roof of grass, a lee_
half reminder of the men who served there_
a weathered monument to some of the dead.
Inside we follow the ranger, hurried
though we are to get to the beach. He tells
of graves lost in the Gulf, the island split
in half when Hurricane Camille hit,
shows us casemates, cannons, the store that sells
souvenirs, tokens of history long buried.
The Daughters of the Confederacy
has placed a plaque here, at the fort's entrance_
each Confederate soldier's name raised hard
in bronze; no names carved for the Native Guards_
2nd Regiment, Union men, black phalanx.
What is monument to their legacy?
All the grave markers, all the crude headstones_
water-lost. Now fish dart among their bones,
and we listen for what the waves intone.
Only the fort remains, near forty feet high,
round, unfinished, half open to the sky,
the elements_wind, rain_God's deliberate eye.
A poem from Trethewey's coming book, "Thrall."
Bird in the House
A gift, you said, when we found it.
And because my mother was dead,
I thought the cat had left it for me. The bird
was black as omen, like a single crow
meaning sorrow. It was the year
you'd remarried, summer_
the fields high and the pond reflecting
everything: the willow, the small dock,
the crow overhead that_doubled_
should have been an omen for joy.
Forgive me, Father, that I brought to that house
my grief. You will not recall telling me
you could not understand my loss, not until
your own mother died. Each night I'd wake
from a dream, my heart battering my rib cage_
a trapped, wild bird. I did not know then
the cat had brought in a second grief: what was it
but animal knowledge? Forgive me
that I searched for meaning in everything
you did, that I watched you bury the bird
in the backyard_your back to me; I saw you
flatten the mound, erasing it into the dirt.