The poet's hand

Evolution of a poem


US Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey, Robert W. Woodruff Professor of English and Creative Writing, shares the original manuscript of her poem "Calling" to reveal "the progression through the changes, avenues, dead ends, and all the strange places a poem may go before it is pared away to the shimmering thing it becomes." The poem appears in her latest collection, Thrall (2012).

Handwritten version of poem 'Mexico' - Say that the trinity of childhood is mother, father child: know that someone must be ghost. [what other verbs to begin each stanza?] If memory is always fragment, it is also augur of loss. -What- come back piecemeal, from this distance there is light streaming in, light and the sound of water in a basin I know is white, my mother's footsteps on the tile floor. / Come back (all of it piecemeal) know that (nothing -is- linear), the mind circling, the long road come back at day's end, the desert all around us, the sun so large the sky seemed smaller, burdened by its weight. / What's left is souvenir - plastic skeleton I clutched in the market. / Mexico / Always there is light streaming in / the sound of running water / in a basin I know is / -cool and- white / my mother's footsteps / on the tile / floor / And Before that: what must / have been a desert / [where I sat atop a mule] the mule I sat on / posing / (before my father's camera) / for the picture
Calling / -- 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, / light streaming in, the sun behind her, / 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. / [What] -All- I know is this: I was drowning / and saw a dark Madonna. Why not / call it a vision? someone pulled me through / the water's bright ceiling / and I rose, initiate, from one life / into another.
Calling / -- 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, / light streaming in, the sun behind her, / 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. / [What] -All- I know is this: I was drowning / and saw a dark Madonna. Why not / call it a vision? someone pulled me through / the water's bright ceiling / and I rose, initiate, from one life / into another.

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