Natasha Trethewey

5. Exegesis

On Saturday, when I come to see
my brother, they call him, over loudspeaker,
to the tower—a small guardroom
at the entrance to the prison. I sign my name
in the book, write R0470—his number—
and agree to a search. I stand as if
I would make a snow angel in the air,
and the woman guard pats me down
lightly. Waiting for him, I consider

the squat room’s title; how it once meant
prison, and to the religious faithful, heaven.
Here, my brother has no use for these words,
this easy parsing. This time he tells me
he’s changed his name: Jo-ell instead of Joel—
name of the man who took our mother’s life—
his father, an inmate somewhere else.
Thinking only of words, I’d wanted to tell him
the name means prophet. That was before I knew
it had—for him—been a prison, too.