‘let these voices be heard’

This past week, Natasha Trethewey was named poet laureate for the state of Mississippi. In making the announcement, Gov. Haley Barbour said, “She has received national and international acclaim for her poetry that is, often, a tribute to the state of Mississippi and, more specifically, the Mississippi Gulf Coast.” We had the good fortune to meet this Pulitzer Prize-winning poet awhile back when we worked with Men Stopping Violence on its annual awards gala. Ms. Tretheway had received The Kathleen Carlin Justice Seekers Award that evening and when she took the stage to accept the honor, she read one of her works to the audience of several hundred and the room practically lit a-fire. Here’s a poem from her first collection, Domestic Work.

Here, she said, put this on your head.
She handed me a hat.
You ’bout as  white as your dad,
and you gone stay like that.
Aunt Sugar rolled her nylons down
around each bony ankle,
and I rolled down my white knee socks
letting my thin legs dangle,
circling them just above water
and silver backs of minnows
flitting here then there between
the sun spots and the shadows.
This is how you hold the pole
to cast the line out straight.
Now put that worm on your hook,
throw it out and wait.
She sat spitting tobacco juice
into a coffee cup.
Hunkered down when she felt the bite,
jerked the pole straight up
reeling and tugging hard at the fish
that wriggled and tried to fight back.
A flounder, she said, and you can tell
’cause one of its sides is black.
The other side is white, she said.
It landed with a thump.
I stood there watching that fish flip-flop,
switch sides with every jump.
Natasha Trethewey, “Flounder” from Domestic Work (Graywolf Press, 2000). Copyright © 2000 by Natasha Trethewey.


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