Transcript: Poems on Air, Episode 51 - Natasha Trethewey

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[Music intro]

LYNNE THOMPSON: Hello! My name is Lynne Thompson, Poet Laureate for the City of Los Angeles and I’m so happy to welcome listeners to this installment of Poems on Air, a podcast supported by the Los Angeles Public Library. Every week, I’ll present the work of poets I admire, poets who you should know, and poets who have made a substantial and inimitable contribution to the art and craft of poetry.

LYNNE THOMPSON: Today’s spotlighted poet needs no introduction in the poetry world and, I suspect, even beyond. Natasha Trethewey served two terms as U.S. Poet Laureate and was also Poet Laureate of her home state, Mississippi. The author of both poetry and prose collections, Trethewey is the winner of a Pulitzer Prize for her collection Native Guard among too many other awards to name including a Guggenheim Fellowship. I honor her here because her narrative and lyric braiding of personal and private history in a multitude of landscapes has, and always will, inspire me.

LYNNE THOMPSON: Today’s poem is "Elegy" by Natasha Trethewey.


                         for my father

I think by now the river must be thick
	with salmon. Late August, I imagine it

as it was that morning: drizzle needling
	the surface, mist at the banks like a net

settling around us—everything damp
	and shining. That morning, awkward

and heavy in our hip waders, we stalked
	into the current and found our places—

you upstream a few yards and out
	far deeper. You must remember how

the river seeped in over your boots
	and you grew heavier with that defeat.

All day I kept turning to watch you, how
	first you mimed our guide’s casting

then cast your invisible line, slicing the sky
	between us; and later, rod in hand, how

you tried—again and again—to find
	that perfect arc, flight of an insect

skimming the river’s surface. Perhaps
	you recall I cast my line and reeled in

two small trout we could not keep.
	Because I had to release them, I confess,

I thought about the past—working
	the hooks loose, the fish writhing

in my hands, each one slipped away
	before I could let go. I can tell you now

that I tried to take it all in, record it
	for an elegy I’d write—one day—

when the time came. Your daughter,
	I was that ruthless. What does it matter

if I tell you I learned to be? You kept casting
	your line, and when it did not come back

empty, it was tangled with mine. Some nights,
	dreaming, I step again into the small boat

that carried us out and watch the bank receding—
	my back to where I know we are headed.

LYNNE THOMPSON: The Los Angeles Poet Laureate was created as a joint program between the City’s Department of Cultural Affairs and the Los Angeles Public Library and this podcast is available wherever you get your podcasts. Thanks for listening!

[Music outro]

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  • DISCLAIMER: This is NOT a certified or verbatim transcript, but rather represents only the context of the class or meeting, subject to the inherent limitations of real-time captioning. The primary focus of real-time captioning is general communication access and as such this document is not suitable, acceptable, nor is it intended for use in any type of legal proceeding. Transcript provided by the author.