Vicksburg, Mississippi Here, the Mississippi carved its mud-dark path, a graveyard for skeletons of sunken riverboats. Here, the river changed its course, turning away from the city as one turns, forgetting, from the past— the abandoned bluffs, land sloping up above the river's bend—where now the Yazoo fills the Mississippi's empty bed. Here, the dead stand up in stone, white marble, on Confederate Avenue. I stand on ground once hollowed by a web of caves; they must have seemed like catacombs, in 1863, to the woman sitting in her parlor, candlelit, underground. I can see her listening to shells explode, writing herself into history, asking what is to become of all the living things in this place? This whole city is a grave. Every spring— Pilgrimage—the living come to mingle with the dead, brush against their cold shoulders in the long hallways, listen all night to their silence and indifference, relive their dying on the green battlefield. At the museum, we marvel at their clothes— preserved under glass—so much smaller than our own, as if those who wore them were only children. We sleep in their beds, the old mansions hunkered on the bluffs, draped in flowers—funereal—a blur of petals against the river's gray. The brochure in my room calls this living history. The brass plate on the door reads Prissy's Room. A window frames the river's crawl toward the Gulf. In my dream, the ghost of history lies down beside me, rolls over, pins me beneath a heavy arm.
From Native Guard: Poems by Natasha Trethewey. Copyright © 2006 by Natasha Trethewey. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
Natasha Trethewey, who has served as both the state poet laureate of Mississippi and the U.S. poet laureate, received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 2007. She was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2019.
Date Published: 2006-01-01
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/pilgrimage