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POEM OF THE DAY -- "Letter Home" by U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Tretheway

Since one of our missions is to help "spread poetry to the masses" via Twitter and our blog - it makes perfect sense then to keep "the masses" up to date with an annual entry about the current U.S. Poet Laureate.  

This year, it's poet Natasha Tretheway -- a native of Gulfport, Mississippi - born in 1966 to mixed race (Canadian father, black mother) parents.  Her parents were divorced, and her mother was murdered in 1985 by her second husband, when she was 19 years old.  Natasha turned to poetry at that time - and much of her work reflects her own life experiences despite a variety of historical and racial settings.

She is the author of (4) published works of poetry: Domestic Work (Graywolf Press, 2000), Bellocq's Ophelia (Graywolf, 2002), Native Guard (Houghton Mifflin, 2006), for which she was awarded the 2007 Pulitzer Prize, and Thrall (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, August 2012.) 

Much of her poetry examines themes such as American racial legacy and is heavily reliant on her own interpretation and memory of events and paths traveled in her own life.  Frequently her work also references the Civil War - as her memories are strong concerning the South's impression of the Civil War -- mirrored from a unique perspective as a mixed race poet...with a sensibility and sensitivity that only a poet could have.

Here is one of Natasha's more notable poems -- historical in nature and particularly sensitive in examining the thoughts of race in 1910 as it might have felt (most certainly did) to a woman of mixed race at that time.

Letter Home 

By Natasha Tretheway

--New Orleans, November 1910

Four weeks have passed since I left, and still
I must write to you of no work. I've worn down
the soles and walked through the tightness
of my new shoes calling upon the merchants,
their offices bustling. All the while I kept thinking
my plain English and good writing would secure
for me some modest position Though I dress each day
in my best, hands covered with the lace gloves
you crocheted--no one needs a girl. How flat
the word sounds, and heavy. My purse thins.
I spend foolishly to make an appearance of quiet
industry, to mask the desperation that tightens
my throat. I sit watching--

though I pretend not to notice--the dark maids
ambling by with their white charges. Do I deceive
anyone? Were they to see my hands, brown
as your dear face, they'd know I'm not quite
what I pretend to be. I walk these streets
a white woman, or so I think, until I catch the eyes
of some stranger upon me, and I must lower mine,
a negress again. There are enough things here
to remind me who I am. Mules lumbering through
the crowded streets send me into reverie, their footfall
the sound of a pointer and chalk hitting the blackboard
at school, only louder. Then there are women, clicking
their tongues in conversation, carrying their loads
on their heads. Their husky voices, the wash pots
and irons of the laundresses call to me.

I thought not to do the work I once did, back bending
and domestic; my schooling a gift--even those half days
at picking time, listening to Miss J--. How
I'd come to know words, the recitations I practiced
to sound like her, lilting, my sentences curling up
or trailing off at the ends. I read my books until
I nearly broke their spines, and in the cotton field,
I repeated whole sections I'd learned by heart,
spelling each word in my head to make a picture
I could see, as well as a weight I could feel
in my mouth. So now, even as I write this
and think of you at home, Goodbye

is the waving map of your palm, is
a stone on my tongue.

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