Natasha Trethewey

My Mother Dreams Another Country

Already the words are changing. She is changing
      from colored to negro, black still years ahead.
This is 1966 - she is married to a white man -
    and there are more names for what grows inside her.
It is enough to worry about words like mongrel
    and the infertility of mules and mulattoes
while flipping through a book of baby names.
    She has come home to wait out the long months,
her room unchanged since she's been gone:
    dolls winking down from every shelf — all of them
white. Every day she is flanked by the rituals of superstition,
    and there is a name she will learn for this too:
maternal impression -the shape, like an unknown
    country, marking the back of the newborn's thigh.
For now, women tell her to clear her head, to steady her hands
    or she'll gray a lock of the child's hair wherever
she worries her own, imprint somewhere the outline
    of a thing she craves too much. They tell her
to stanch her cravings by eating dirt. All spring
    she has sat on her hands, her fingers numb. For a while
each day, she can't feel anything she touches: the arbor
    out back — the landscape's green tangle; the molehill
of her own swelling. Here — outside the city limits —
    cars speed by, clouds of red dust in their wake.
She breathes it in—Mississippi—then drifts toward sleep,
    thinking of someplace she’s never been. Late,
Mississippi is a dark backdrop bearing down
    on the windows of her room. On the TV in the corner,
the station signs off, broadcasting its nightly salutation:
    the waving Stars and Stripes, our national anthem.