I’ve never read Nathasha Trethaway‘s work. But, because she is the recently named US poet laureate. And because she is among the youngest poet laureates ever named. And because she is Southern and the first African American named since Rita Dove in 1993. And because I listened to her interview with Terry Gross and thought she was just about the loveliest thing. And because when I heard her read her poems on the radio I stood mesmerized over my sink full of dishes, the water running aimlessly into the drain. For all those reasons, I knew I needed to read her work and celebrate her around here.
So, her book The Native Guard (which won the Pulitzer in 2006), is on my waiting list for the my next reading endeaver. And today, I’m sharing a poem of hers I found that was published in her book, Domestic Work. I have read only a couple of her poems so I’m no expert, but I think this poem says something beautiful about race and identity.
By Natasha Tretheway
Here, she said, put this on your head.
She handed me a hat.
You ’bout as white as your dad,
and you gone stay like that.
Aunt Sugar rolled her nylons down
around each bony ankle,
and I rolled down my white knee socks
letting my thin legs dangle,
circling them just above water
and silver backs of minnows
flitting here then there between
the sun spots and the shadows.
This is how you hold the pole
to cast the line out straight.
Now put that worm on your hook,
throw it out and wait.
She sat spitting tobacco juice
into a coffee cup.
Hunkered down when she felt the bite,
jerked the pole straight up
reeling and tugging hard at the fish
that wriggled and tried to fight back.
A flounder, she said, and you can tell
’cause one of its sides is black.
The other side is white, she said.
It landed with a thump.
I stood there watching that fish flip-flop,
switch sides with every jump.