Published on Academy of American Poets (https://poets.org)


Pilgrimage

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.

Credit


From Native Guard: Poems by Natasha Trethewey. Copyright © 2006 by Natasha Trethewey. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

Author


Natasha Trethewey

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