Natasha Trethewey is one of those rare poets that everybody seems to like, despite her massive commercial success. Massive, that is, in terms of poetic commercial success, which is timid at best.
Trethewey won the Pulitzer Prize for her book Native Guard (2006), written about an all-black regiment that fought in the Civil War. She was later named U.S. Poet Laureate, twice.
Her work deals principally with race in America. Trethewey’s parents were a mixed-race couple living in Mississippi in the Sixties. So she has rich material from which to draw.
To the right is a piece that exemplifies Trethewey’s clean, linear, heart-breaking verse. Behind is Hong Kong’s ambitious skyline.
Here is the full text of the poem:
What is Evidence
Not the fleeting bruises she’d cover
with make-up, a dark patch like the imprint
of a scope she’d pressed her eye too close to,
looking for a way out, nor the quiver
in the voice she’d steady, leaning
into a pot of bones on the stove. Not
the teeth she wore in place of her own, or
the official document—its seal
and smeared signature—fading already,
the edges wearing. Not the tiny marker
with its dates, her name, abstract as history.
Only the landscape of her body—splintered
clavicle, pierced temporal—her thin bones
settling a bit each day, the way all things do.