Bulldozers, Telling Us Where To Stand

natasha-trethewey
Natasha Trethewey

Pastoral

by Natasha Trethewey (1966- )

In the dream, I am with the Fugitive
Poets. We’re gathered for a photograph.
Behind us, the skyline of Atlanta
hidden by the photographer’s backdrop —
a lush pasture, green, full of soft-eyed cows
lowing, a chant that sounds like no, no. Yes,
I say to the glass of bourbon I’m offered.
We’re lining up now — Robert Penn Warren,
his voice just audible above the drone
of bulldozers, telling us where to stand.
Say “race,” 
the photographer croons. I’m in
blackface again when the flash freezes us.
My father’s white, 
I tell them, and rural.
You don’t hate the South? 
they ask. You don’t hate it?



 

Miscegenation

by Natasha Trethewey

In 1965 my parents broke two laws of Mississippi;
they went to Ohio to marry, returned to Mississippi.

They crossed the river into Cincinnati, a city whose name
begins with a sound like sin, the sound of wrong-mis in Mississippi.

A year later they moved to Canada, followed a route the same
as slaves, the train slicing the white glaze of winter, leaving Mississippi.

Faulkener’s Joe Christmas was born in winter, like Jesus, given his name
for the day he was left at the orphanage, his race unknown in Mississippi.

My father was reading War and Peace when he gave me my name.
was born near Easter, 1966, in Mississippi.

When I turned 33 my father said, It’s your Jesus year – you’re the same
age he was when he died.  It was spring, the hills greann in Mississippi

I know more than Joe Christmas did.  Natasha is a Russian name –
though I’m not; it means Christmas child, even in Mississippi.

 


 

Natasha Trethewey, “Miscegenation” from Native Guard. Copyright © 2007 by Natasha Trethewey.  Source: Native Guard (Mariner Books, 2007)

“Pastoral” from “Native Guard: Poems” by Natasha Trethewey. Copyright © 2006 by Natasha Trethewey. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

The Caprice of Prosody

francesco-petrarch-4

Protest
by Joseph Auslander (1897 – 1965)

I will not make a sonnet from
Each little private martyrdom:
Nor out of love left dead with time
Construe a stanza or a rime.

We do not suffer to afford
The searched for and the subtle word:
There is too much that may not be
At the caprice of prosody.

From Cyclops’ Eye. Harper & Brothers, 1926

Sonnet 61

by Francesco Petrarch (1304 – 1374)
Translated by Joseph Auslander

Blest be the day, and blest be the month and year,
Season and hour and very moment blest,
The lovely land and place where first possessed
By two pure eyes I found me prisoner;
And blest the first sweet pain, the first most dear,
Which burnt my heart when Love came in as guest;
And blest the bow, the shafts which shook my breast,
And even the wounds which Love delivered there.
Blest be the words and voices which filled grove
And glen with echoes of my lady’s name;
The sighs, the tears, the fierce despair of love;
And blest the sonnet-sources of my fame;
And blest that thought of thoughts which is her own,
Of her, her only, of herself alone!


Pop Quiz.

  1. Can you name the current Poet Laureate of the United States?
  2. Does your state or province have a poet laureate? If yes, who is it?

My Answers:

  1. Tracy K. Smith (September 2017)
  2. Yes – Minnesota’s poet laureate is Joyce Sutphen.

The concept of a poet laureate as a function of recognition and civic artistic contribution to society goes all the way back to the 14th Century.  Petrarch was crowned Rome’s first poet laureate in 1341 and is the god-father of sonnets.   So it is only slightly ironic, or a planned coincidence, that the United States first poet laureate,  was Joseph Auslander.  One of Auslander’s many accomplishments as a writer was an English translation of Petrarch’s sonnets.

In upcoming blog posts I’ll share poems from current and former poet laureates. Here’s a poem from the current Poet Laureate.

Sci-Fi

by Tracy K. Smith

There will be no edges, but curves.
Clean lines pointing only forward.

History, with its hard spine and dog-eared
Corners, will be replaced with nuance,

Just like the dinosaurs gave way
To mounds and mounds of ice.

Women will still be women, but
The distinction will be empty. Sex,

Having outlived every threat, will gratify
Only the mind, which is where it will exist.

For kicks, we’ll dance for ourselves
Before mirrors studded with golden bulbs.

The oldest among us will recognize that glow—
But the word sun will have been re-assigned.

To the Standard Uranium-Neutralizing device
Found in households and nursing homes.

And yes, we’ll live to be much older, thanks
To popular consensus. Weightless, unhinged,

Eons from even our own moon, we’ll drift
In the haze of space, which will be, once

And for all, scrutable and safe.


Tracy K. Smith, “Sci-Fi” from Life on Mars. Copyright © 2011 by Tracy K. Smith.