Natasha Trethewey

3. Believer

For Tamara Jones

The house is in need of repair, but is—
for now, she says—still hers. After the storm,
she laid hands on what she could reclaim:
the iron table and chairs etched with rust,
the dresser laced with mold. Four years gone,
she’s still rebuilding the shed out back
and sorting through boxes in the kitchen—
a lifetime of bills and receipts, deeds
and warranties, notices spread  on the table, 
a barrage of red ink: PAST DUE. Now
the house is a museum of everything 

she can’t let go: a pile of photographs—
fused and peeling—water stains blurring 
the handwritten names of people she can’t recall; 
a drawer crowded with funeral programs 
and church fans, rubber bands and paper sleeves 
for pennies, nickels, and dimes. What stops me 
is the stack of tithing envelopes. Reading my face,
she must know I can’t see why—even now—
she tithes, why she keeps giving to the church.
First seek the kingdom of God, she tells me,
and the rest will follow—says it twice

as if to make a talisman of her words.