Natasha Trethewey


After Ellen Gallagher’s Watery Ecstatic

Often I am permitted to return to a meadow
as if it were a given property of the mind…
           —Robert Duncan

As now, this meadow of seagrass, tangle
             of history—a nest of myriad,

mirrored faces. How not to think of words
             like cargo and jettison, each syllable

a last breath, vesicles rising to the surface
             of the sea. How not to think of loss,

how it takes hold and grows: like lacuna
             snails, slow and deliberate, on a reed?

Why is everything I see the past
             I’ve tried to forget? In dreams

I am a child again, underwater, my limbs
             sluggish as I struggle to wake. Always,

I am pursued. Waking, I am frightened
             with memory: my mother’s last words

spoken—after her death—in a dream:
             Do you know what it means

to have a wound that never heals?
             And now this thirst:

how many times have I cupped my hands
             to drink, found—in the map

of my palms—the same pattern: lines
             crossed and capillary as veins

in the body, these willowy reeds?
             How can I see anything

but this: how trauma lives in the sea
             of my body, awash in the waters

of forgetting. In every resilient blade
             I see the ancestors, my mother’s face.