Natasha Trethewey

February 1863

If this war is to be forgotten, I ask in the name of all
things sacred what shall men remember?
              —Frederick Douglass

We know it is our duty now to keep
white men as prisoners — rebel soldiers,
would-be masters. We’re all bondsmen here, each
to the other. Freedom has gotten them
captivity. For us, a conscription
we have chosen — jailors to those who still
would have us slaves. They are cautious, dreading
the sight of us. Some neither read nor write,
are laid too low and have few words to send
but those I give them. Still, they are wary
of a negro writing, taking down letters.
X binds them to the page — a mute symbol
like the cross on a grave. I suspect they fear
I’ll listen, put something else down in ink.