In the fall of 2011, I sent this book - Native Guard - to President Obama. I got a nice card back. In 2012, Natasha Trethewey was appointed Poet Laureate of the United States. Coincidence? I think not.
(Yes, I know the Poet Laureate is appointed by the Librarian of Congress. My version is cooler.)
Trethewey won the Pulitzer in 2007 as a result of this collection: it is gorgeous and lush and mouth-rich, and every time I open it, I find something new to savor. I have Trethewey's forthcoming memoir, Memorial Drive, and perhaps I can make that happen this week. Until then, I'm going to keep letting this poem sing in my head.
What the Body Can Say
Even in stone the gesture is unmistakable --
the man upright, though on his knees, spine
arched, head flung back, and, covering his eyes,
his fingers spread across his face. I think
grief, and since he's here, in the courtyard
of the divinity school, what he might ask of God.
How easy it is to read this body's language,
or those gestures we've come to know -- the raised thumb
that is both a symbol of agreement and the request
for a ride, the two fingers held up that once meant
victory, then peace. But what was my mother saying
that day not long before her death -- her face tilted up
at me, her mouth falling open, wordless, just as
we open our mouths in church to take in the wafer,
meaning communion? What matters is context --
the side of the road, or that my mother wanted
something I still can't name: what, kneeling,
my face behind my hands, I might ask of God.
For more from the brilliant Trethewey (and Sarah M. Broom, author of The Yellow House), here's a conversation hosted by the National Book Foundation in early March, just before the world fell apart. From this event, I learned Trethewey was named by her father for Natasha Rostov. He was reading War and Peace at the time of her birth.
The best books spark the best conversations! If you have thoughts to share, please feel free to email me at email@example.com. I promise a reply.
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