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Original Essays | June 20, 2014

Lauren Owen: IMG The Other Vampire

It's a wild and thundery night. Inside a ramshackle old manor house, a beautiful young girl lies asleep in bed. At the window, a figure watches... Continue »
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Thrall: Poems


Thrall: Poems Cover





For my father

I think by now the river must be thick

   with salmon. Late August, I imagine it

as it was that morning: drizzle needling

   the surface, mist at the banks like a net

settling around us—everything damp

   and shining. That morning, awkward

and heavy in our hip waders, we stalked

   into the current and found our places—

you upstream a few yards and out

   far deeper. You must remember how

the river seeped in over your boots

   and you grew heavier with that defeat.

All day I kept turning to watch you, how

   first you mimed our guides casting

then cast your invisible line, slicing the sky

   between us; and later, rod in hand, how

you tried—again and again—to find

   that perfect arc, flight of an insect

skimming the rivers surface. Perhaps

   you recall I cast my line and reeled in

two small trout we could not keep.

   Because I had to release them, I confess,

I thought about the past—working

   the hooks loose, the fish writhing

in my hands, each one slipping away

   before I could let go. I can tell you now

that I tried to take it all in, record it

   for an elegy Id write—one day—

when the time came. Your daughter,

   I was that ruthless. What does it matter

if I tell you I learned to be? You kept casting

   your line, and when it did not come back

empty, it was tangled with mine. Some nights,

   dreaming, I step again into the small boat

that carried us out and watch the bank receding—

   my back to where I know we are headed.

Kitchen Maid with Supper at Emmaus;

or, The Mulata

After the painting by Diego Velàzquez, c. 1619

She is the vessels on the table before her:

the copper pot tipped toward us, the white pitcher

clutched in her hand, the black one edged in red

and upside down. Bent over, she is the mortar

and the pestle at rest in the mortar—still angled

in its posture of use. She is the stack of bowls

and the bulb of garlic beside it, the basket hung

by a nail on the wall and the white cloth bundled

in it, the rag in the foreground recalling her hand.

Shes the stain on the wall the size of her shadow—

the color of blood, the shape of a thumb. She is echo

of Jesus at table, framed in the scene behind her:

his white corona, her white cap. Listening, she leans

into what she knows. Light falls on half her face.

Mano Prieta

The green drapery is like a sheet of water

   behind us—a cascade in the backdrop

of the photograph, a rushing current

that would scatter us, carry us each

   away. This is 1969 and I am three—

still light enough to be nearly the color

of my father. His armchair is a throne

   and I am leaning into him, propped

against his knees—his hand draped

across my shoulder. On the chairs arm

   my mother looms above me,

perched at the edge as though

she would fall off. The camera records

   her single gesture. Perhaps to still me,

she presses my arm with a forefinger,

makes visible a hypothesis of blood,

   its empire of words: the imprint

on my body of her lovely dark hand.



Here is the dark night

of childhood—flickering

lamplight, odd shadows

on the walls—giant and flame

projected through the clear

frame of my fathers voice.

Here is the past come back

as metaphor: my father, as if

to ease me into sleep, reciting

the trials of Odysseus. Always

he begins with the Cyclops,

light at the caves mouth

bright as knowledge, the pilgrim

honing a pencil-sharp stake.


Its the old place on Jefferson Street

Ive entered, a girl again, the house dark

and everyone sleeping—so quiet it seems

Im alone. What can this mean now, more

than thirty years gone, to find myself

at the beginning of that long hallway

knowing, as I did then, what stands

at the other end? And why does the past

come back like this: looming, a human figure

formed—as if it had risen from the Gulf

—of the crushed shells that paved

our driveway, a sharp-edged creature

that could be conjured only by longing?

Why is it here blocking the dark passage

to my fathers bookshelves, his many books?


In this dream I am driving

a car, strapped to my seat

like Odysseus to the mast,

my father calling to me

from the back—luring me

to a past that never was. This

is the treachery of nostalgia.

This is the moment before

a ship could crash onto the rocks,

the cars back wheels tip over

a cliff. Steering, I must be

the crew, my ears deaf

to the sound of my fathers voice;

I must be the captive listener

cleaving to his words. I must be

singing this song to myself.

Product Details

Trethewey, Natasha
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH)
Single Author / American
Poetry-A to Z
Edition Description:
Trade Cloth
Publication Date:
9 x 6 in 1 lb

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Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Poetry » A to Z
Fiction and Poetry » Poetry » American » African American
Fiction and Poetry » Poetry » Featured Titles

Thrall: Poems Used Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
$15.95 In Stock
Product details 96 pages Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) - English 9780547571607 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Trethewey made headlines and signaled a generational shift with her appointment this year as U.S. poet laureate. Already known for her 2007 Pulitzer Prize — winning Native Guard and for her articulate, deftly shaped, and sometimes research-driven poems about history and race, Trethewey in this fourth collection takes her familiar powers to non — U.S. turf, considering race, embodiment, guilt and liberation in paintings from Spain and Mexico. In one of the famous casta paintings illustrating Spanish colonial notions of race, a mulatto boy 'is a palimpsest of paint — / layers of color, history rendering him// that precise shade of in-between.' Lightly rhymed pentameters about Diego Velázquez's painting 'Kitchen Maid' pay homage to the scrutinized character: 'she is the mortar/ and the pestle and rest in the mortar — still angled/ in its posture of use'; the patient title poem considers Juan de Pareja, a painter who started life as Velázquez's slave. When Trethewey turns her attention back to contemporary America, she looks at her own family: her late African-American mother and her white father, his life 'showing me// how one life is bound to another, that hardship/ endures.' Trethewey's ideas are not always original, but her searching treatments of her own family, and of people in paintings, show strength and care, and a sharp sense of line. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"Synopsis" by , The Pulitzer Prize-winning Native Guard explored Natasha Tretheweys relationship with her black mother. Now, her new collection, Thrall, takes on the uneasy relationship between her and her white father. It charts the intersections of public and personal history that determine the roles to which a mixed-race daughter and her white father are consigned.


"Synopsis" by ,
Growing up in the Deep South, Natasha Trethewey was never told that in her hometown of Gulfport, Mississippi, black soldiers had played a pivotal role in the Civil War. Off the coast, on Ship Island, stood a fort that had once been a Union prison housing Confederate captives. Protecting the fort was the second regiment of the Louisiana Native Guards — one of the Union's first official black units. Trethewey's new book of poems pays homage to the soldiers who served and whose voices have echoed through her own life.

The title poem imagines the life of a former slave stationed at the fort, who is charged with writing letters home for the illiterate or invalid POWs and his fellow soldiers. Just as he becomes the guard of Ship Island's memory, so Trethewey recalls her own childhood as the daughter of a black woman and a white man. Her parents' marriage was still illegal in 1966 Mississippi. The racial legacy of the Civil War echoes through elegiac poems that honor her own mother and the forgotten history of her native South. Native Guard is haunted by the intersection of national and personal experience.

"Synopsis" by ,
Winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for poetry, Natasha Tretheweys elegiac Native Guard is a deeply personal volume that brings together two legacies of the Deep South.

The title of the collection refers to the Mississippi Native Guards, a black regiment whose role in the Civil War has been largely overlooked by history. As a child in Gulfport, Mississippi, in the 1960s, Trethewey could gaze across the water to the fort on Ship Island where Confederate captives once were guarded by black soldiers serving the Union cause. The racial legacy of the South touched Tretheweys life on a much more immediate level, too. Many of the poems in Native Guard pay loving tribute to her mother, whose marriage to a white man was illegal in her native Mississippi in the 1960s. Years after her mothers tragic death, Trethewey reclaims her memory, just as she reclaims the voices of the black soldiers whose service has been all but forgotten.

"Synopsis" by ,
The stunning follow-up volume to her 2007 Pulitzer Prize-winning Native Guard, by Americas new Poet Laureate

Natasha Tretheweys poems are at once deeply personal and historical—exploring her own interracial and complicated roots—and utterly American, connecting them to ours. The daughter of a black mother and white father, a student of history and of the Deep South, she is inspired by everything from colonial paintings of mulattos and mestizos to the stories of people forgotten by history. Meditations on captivity, knowledge, and inheritance permeate Thrall, as she reflects on a series of small estrangements from her poet father and comes to an understanding of how, as father and daughter, they are part of the ongoing history of race in America.

Thrall confirms not only that Natasha Trethewey is one of our most gifted and necessary poets but that she is also one of our most brilliant and fearless.

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