Poetry Monday: History Lesson

We have a new poet laureate here in the US (did you know we had such a position)?

Her name is Natasha Trethewey (that’s her to the left), and she is a professor at Emory University. (You can learn more about her here.) Professor Trethewey is our 19th poet laureate, and, in this capacity, she is, according to the Library of Congress, the “nation’s official lightning rod for the poetic impulse of Americans. During [her] term, the Poet Laureate seeks to raise the national consciousness to a greater appreciation of the reading and writing and poetry.” Official lightning rod? Now, that’s a job title. Read on to see why Professor Trethewey was selected for this esteemed honor.


History Lesson
By Natasha Trethewey

I am four in this photograph, standing
on a wide strip of Mississippi beach,
my hands on the flowered hips

of a bright bikini. My toes dig in,
curl around wet sand. The sun cuts
the rippling Gulf in flashes with each

tidal rush. Minnows dart at my feet
glinting like switchblades. I am alone
except for my grandmother, other side

of the camera, telling me how to pose.
It is 1970, two years after they opened
the rest of this beach to us,

forty years since the photograph
where she stood on a narrow plot
of sand marked colored, smiling,

her hands on the flowered hips
of a cotton meal-sack dress.

Natasha Trethewey, “History Lesson” from Domestic Work. Copyright 2000 by Natasha Trethewey. Graywolf Press, St. Paul, Minnesota. 


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