Calling

A poem by Natasha Trethewey
Book cover for Thrall

Trethewey’s latest book, Thrall, examines the complexities of race, identity, and relationships.

Mexico, 1969

Why not make a fiction
   of the mind’s fictions? I want to say
  it begins like this: the trip
    a pilgrimage, my mother
kneeling at the altar of the Black Virgin,
   enthralled—light streaming in
    a window, the sun
   at her back, holy water
  in a bowl she must have touched.

What’s left is palimpsest—one memory
  bleeding into another, overwriting it.
   How else to explain
    what remains? The sound
  of water in a basin I know is white,
   the sun behind her, light streaming in,
    her face—
  as if she were already dead—blurred
   as it will become.

I want to imagine her before
  the altar, rising to meet us, my father
    lifting me
   toward her outstretched arms.
  What else to make
   of the mind’s slick confabulations?
    What comes back
is the sun’s dazzle on a pool’s surface,
   light filtered through water

closing over my head, my mother—her body
  between me and the high sun, a corona of light
   around her face. Why not call it
  a vision? What I know is this:
I was drowning and saw a dark Madonna;
    someone pulled me through
  the water’s bright ceiling
    and I rose, initiate,
   from one life into another.

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