by Natasha Trethewey
Natasha Trethewey’s love affair with language is so palpable that as a reader, I sometimes feel I’m witnessing something I’m not supposed to see. Her command of words and their implications and sentence structure and composition, not to mention the lyrical cadence of phrasing, reverberates beyond the last page. This memoir could easily be a song, a heartbreaking beautiful song that would captivate the audience and silence the room. To hear Trethewey’s story is a privilege, the bravery it took her to tell it, is astounding. The memoir cna be easily consumed in one sitting, though the message lingers like the haunting melody of the ballad we can’t forget.
As a young girl, Tretheway straddled two worlds in rural Mississippi. Her black mother and white father formed a love bubble that sheltered her from outside judgment, but as their relationship struggled, the exterior started to crack. After their divorce, Natasha and her mother Gwen moved to Atlanta, a growing mecca for the black community. While finding her footing, Gwen marries a controlling man who uproots any hopes of freedom with his mental, verbal, and physical abuse. Shortly after Natasha leaves for college, her stepfather murders Gwen outside her home, and Natasha is left with her mother’s fading memory.
Trethewey constructs this memoir in the before and in the after, the two opposing worlds in which she must now reside. Returning to her mother’s memory means confronting the reality of what happened, a tragedy too unfathomable at the time of its occurrence. Trethewey weaves in and out of reality and dreams, the mother she remembers and the one left behind in relics of the past. She asserts poetry as her savior; to understand what happened, she had to tell the story. This memoir is the culmination of years of soul-searching and soul-avoiding, of denying her history and embracing her past, of loving her mother in the flesh and loving the soul left behind. In the search for the truth, Trethewey finds herself, the pieces scattered in the evidence left behind. The duality in the prose and poetry of this masterpiece channel the parallel nature of two lives converging into one woman’s lived experience.
Natasha Trethewey was named the US Poet Laureate for 2012 and 2013. Her poetry collection Native Guard won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize.
“For as long as I can remember, my father had been telling me that one day I would have to become a writer, that because of the nature of my experience I would have something necessary to say.”