Friday, December 16, 2011

A Common History

I just finished a powerful collection of poetry by Natasha Trethewey called Native Guard. Her poems are haunting, filled with the paradoxical beauty and brutality of the South as experienced both historically and personally. In addition to her content, I love that many of her poems have more formal structure than the free verse that I'm used to reading.

Her collection is also dear to me because it adds one more elegant voice to the relatively few who tell the story of what it means to be biracial in America, particularly in the South. Though she was born in a much different, much harder time than me, there is nevertheless overlap in our stories. One of my favorites from the collection is below:

Southern History

Before the war, they were happy, he said,
quoting our textbook. (This was senior-year

history class.) The slaves were clothed, fed,
and better off under a master's care.

I watched the words blur on the page. No one
raised a hand, disagreed. Not even me.

It was late; we still had Reconstruction
to cover before the test, and -- luckily --

three hours of watching Gone with the Wind.
History, the teacher said, of the old South --

a true account of how things were back then.
On screen a slave stood big as life: big mouth,

bucked eyes, our textbook's grinning proof -- a lie
my teacher guarded. Silent, so did I.

No comments: