Natasha Trethewey


Mexico, 1969
Why not make a fiction
               of the mind’s fictions? I want to say
       it begins like this: the trip
                      a pilgrimage, my mother
kneeling at the altar of the Black Virgin,
               enthralled—light streaming in
                      a window, the sun
               at her back, holy water
      in a bowl she must have touched.

What’s left is palimpsest—one memory
      bleeding into another, overwriting it.
               How else to explain
                      what remains? The sound
      of water in a basin I know is white,
               the sun behind her, light streaming in,
                      her face—
      as if she were already dead—blurred
               as it will become.

I want to imagine her before
      the altar, rising to meet us, my father
                      lifting me
              toward her outstretched arms.
      What else to make 
              of the mind’s slick confabulations?
                     What comes back
is the sun’s dazzle on a pool’s surface,
              light filtered through water

closing over my head, my mother—her body
      between me and the high sun, a corona of light
              around her face. Why not call it
      a vision? What I know is this:
I was drowning and saw a dark Madonna;
                     someone pulled me through
      the water’s bright ceiling
                     and I rose, initiate,
              from one life into another.