Natasha Trethewey

Invocation, 1926

How they rose early, a list of chores
pulling them toward the kitchen
in dim light—work that must be done
before the rest of their work be done.

How they walked for miles, down
the Gulf and Ship Island Line, toward
the beach, through the quarters, beyond
shotgun shacks, and into the city limits

where white children stood guard—sentries
on a section of rail—muscling them off
the tracks. How they walked on anyway,
until they waded into water, neck-deep,

though they could not swim—a baptism—
something akin to faith, the daily catch 
keeping them afloat. How they tied the lines,
walked back and forth to find each cluster,

each glorious net of crabs. Across sand, the road
hot beneath their feet, then door to back door
they went, my grandmother and her siblings,
knocking, offering their catch, cleaned first

on the back steps, gutted—a display of yellow
bright as sunshine raining down on the grass.
When my grandmother prepared crabs for me
I saw the girl she once was, her nimble hands,

food on the table in all those alien houses
along the beach. On our table: crabs, a mound
of rice steaming in a bowl, gumbo manna—
the line between us and them, between the whites

on one side of the tracks, us on the other, sure
as the crab lines she set, the work of her hands,
that which sustains us. Lord, bless those hands,
the harvesters. Bless the travelers who gather

our food, and those who grow it, clean it, cook it,
who bring it to our tables. Bless the laborers
whose faces we do not see—like the girl
my grandmother was, walking the rails home:

bless us that we remember.