Natasha Trethewey

Natasha Trethewey

“I don’t know who you are.
I just know that I have to see you.”

Natasha Trethewey
Photo: Furious Flower Conference Recordings, 1994

Natasha Trethewey is an award-winning poet and non-fiction writer. At the time of the 1994 conference, Trethewey was still studying for her M.F.A. at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst after earning an M.A. at Hollins College. Tretheway has since been an English and Creative Writing professor at universities such as Emory and Northwestern, and in 2007, won a Pulitzer Prize for her collection of poetry, Native Guard (2006). Trethewey is also the author of Bellocq’s Ophelia (2002) and Thrall: Poems (2012), among other works, and has served as the Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. In 2008, she was named Georgia Woman of the Year, and has been the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Heinz Award for Arts and Humanities. In 2016, she was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Trethewey has served as Poet Laureate of Mississippi and was the 19th Poet Laureate of the United States.

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His Hands

His hands will never be large enough.
Not for the woman who sees in his face
the father she can't remember,
or her first husband, the soldier with two wives—
all the men who would only take.
Not large enough to deflect
the sharp edges of her words.

Still he tries to prove himself in work,
his callused hands heaving crates
all day on the docks, his pay twice spent.
He brings home what he can, buckets of crabs
from his morning traps, a few green bananas.

His supper waits in the warming oven,
the kitchen dark, the screen hooked.
He thinks, make the hands gentle
as he raps lightly on the back door.
He has never had a key.

Putting her hands to his, she pulls him in,
sets him by the stove. Slowly, she rubs oil
into his cracked palms, drawing out soreness
from the swells, removing splinters, taking
whatever his hands will give.

Published version from Domestic Work (2000).

Gesture of a Woman in Process

from a photograph by Clifton Johnson, 1901

In the foreground, two women,
their squinting faces
creased into texture—

a deep relief—the lines
like palms of hands
I could read if I could touch.

Around them, their dailiness:
clothelines sagged with linens,
a patch of greens and yams,

buckets of peas for shelling.
One woman pauses for the picture.
The other won't be still.

Even now, her hands circling,
the white blur of her apron
still in motion.