Natasha Trethewey

What the Body Can Say

Even in stone the gesture is unmistakable—
the man upright, though on his knees, spine

arched, head flung back, and, covering his eyes,
his fingers spread across his face.  I think

grief, and since he’s here, in the courtyard
of the divinity school, what he might ask of God.        
How easy it is to read this body’s language,
Or those gestures we’ve come to know—the raised thumb    
that is both a symbol of agreement and the request
for a ride, the two fingers held up that once meant     
victory, then peace.  But what was my mother saying
that day not long before her death—her face tilted up

at me, her mouth falling open, wordless, just as
we open our mouths in church to take in the wafer,

meaning communion? What matters is context—
the side of the road, or that my mother wanted

something I still can’t name: what, kneeling,
my face behind my hands, I might ask of God.