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,
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.
Natasha Trethewey's Other Poems
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(March 26, 1874 – January 29, 1963)
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