Trethewey workshopped her early poems in a supportive motley crue of Black poets. The Dark Room Collective, once hosted weekly Thomas Sayers Ellis’s, apartment honed the craft of many contemporary poets. So many members of the Dark Room Collective have gone on to win awards. Ms. Trethewey, however, earned the Pullitzer Prize for Native Guard in 2007.
Listen to her poem “My Mother Dreams Another Country” about miscegenation in the rural south.
MY MOTHER DREAMS ANOTHER COUNTRY
Already the words are changing. She is changing
from colored to negro, black stilly ears ahead.
This is 1966 -she is married to a white man -
and there are more names for what grows inside her.
It is enough to worry about words like mongrel
and the infertility of mules and mulattoes
while flipping through a book of baby names.
She has come home to wait out the long months,
her room unchanged since she's been gone:
dolls winking down from every shelf all of them
white. Every day she is flanked by the rituals of superstition,
and there is a name she will learn for this too:
maternal impression -the shape, like an unknown
country, marking the back of the newborn's thigh.
For now, women tell her to clear her head, to steady her hands
or she'll gray a lock of the child's hair wherever
she worries her own, imprint somewhere the outline
of a thing she craves too much. They tell her
to stanch her cravings by eating dirt. All spring
she has sat on her hands, her fingers numb. For a while
each day, she can't feel an1'thing she touches: the arbor
out back -the landscape's green tangle; the molehill
of her own swelling. Here -outside the city limits_
cars speed by, clouds of red dust in their wake.
She breathes it in -Mississippi -then drifts toward sleep,
thinking of someplace she’s never been. Late,
Mississippi is a dark backdrop bearing down
on the windows of her room. On the TV in the corner,
the station signs off broadcasting its nightly salutation:
the waving Stars and Stripes, our national anthem.
Listen to Natasha Trethewey discuss Native Guard.
Read Natasha Trethewey poems from Native Guard.