Elegy For my father I think by now the river must be thick with salmon. Late August, I imagine it as it was that morning: drizzle needling the surface, mist at the banks like a net settling around us--everything damp and shining. That morning, awkward and heavy in our hip waders, we stalked into the current and found our places-- you upstream a few yards and out far deeper. You must remember how the river seeped in over your boots and you grew heavier with that defeat. All day I kept turning to watch you, how first you mimed our guide's casting then cast your invisible line, slicing the sky between us; and later, rod in hand, how you tried--again and again--to find that perfect arc, flight of an insect skimming the river's surface. Perhaps you recall I cast my line and reeled in two small trout we could not keep. Because I had to release them, I confess, I thought about the past--working the hooks loose, the fish writhing in my hands, each one slipping away before I could let go. I can tell you now that I tried to take it all in, record it for an elegy I'd write--one day-- when the time came. Your daughter, I was that ruthless. What does it matter if I tell you I learned to be? You kept casting your line, and when it did not come back empty, it was tangled with mine. Some nights, dreaming, I step again into the small boat that carried us out and watch the bank receding-- my back to where I know we are headed. Kitchen Maid with Supper at Emmaus; or, The Mulata After the painting by Diego Velàzquez, c. 1619 She is the vessels on the table before her: the copper pot tipped toward us, the white pitcher clutched in her hand, the black one edged in red and upside down. Bent over, she is the mortar and the pestle at rest in the mortar--still angled in its posture of use. She is the stack of bowls and the bulb of garlic beside it, the basket hung by a nail on the wall and the white cloth bundled in it, the rag in the foreground recalling her hand. She's the stain on the wall the size of her shadow-- the color of blood, the shape of a thumb. She is echo of Jesus at table, framed in the scene behind her: his white corona, her white cap. Listening, she leans into what she knows. Light falls on half her face. Mano Prieta The green drapery is like a sheet of water behind us--a cascade in the backdrop of the photograph, a rushing current that would scatter us, carry us each away. This is 1969 and I am three-- still light enough to be nearly the color of my father. His armchair is a throne and I am leaning into him, propped against his knees--his hand draped across my shoulder. On the chair's arm my mother looms above me, perched at the edge as though she would fall off. The camera records her single gesture. Perhaps to still me, she presses my arm with a forefinger, makes visible a hypothesis of blood, its empire of words: the imprint on my body of her lovely dark hand. Mythology 1. NOSTOS Here is the dark night of childhood--flickering lamplight, odd shadows on the walls--giant and flame projected through the clear frame of my father's voice. Here is the past come back as metaphor: my father, as if to ease me into sleep, reciting the trials of Odysseus. Always he begins with the Cyclops, light at the cave's mouth bright as knowledge, the pilgrim honing a pencil-sharp stake. 2. QUESTIONS POSED BY THE DREAM It's the old place on Jefferson Street I've entered, a girl again, the house dark and everyone sleeping--so quiet it seems I'm alone. What can this mean now, more than thirty years gone, to find myself at the beginning of that long hallway knowing, as I did then, what stands at the other end? And why does the past come back like this: looming, a human figure formed--as if it had risen from the Gulf --of the crushed shells that paved our driveway, a sharp-edged creature that could be conjured only by longing? Why is it here blocking the dark passage to my father's bookshelves, his many books? 3. SIREN In this dream I am driving a car, strapped to my seat like Odysseus to the mast, my father calling to me from the back--luring me to a past that never was. This is the treachery of nostalgia. This is the moment before a ship could crash onto the rocks, the car's back wheels tip over a cliff. Steering, I must be the crew, my ears deaf to the sound of my father's voice; I must be the captive listener cleaving to his words. I must be singing this song to myself. Excerpted from Thrall: Poems by Natasha Trethewey All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.