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Elegy for the Native Guards

From: Southern Cultures
Volume 19, Number 3, Fall 2013
p. 119 | 10.1353/scu.2013.0027

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Now that the salt of their blood
Stiffens the saltier oblivion of the sea …

—Allen Tate

We leave Gulfport at noon; gulls overhead
trailing the boat—streamers, noisy fanfare—
all the way to Ship Island. What we see
first is the fort, its roof of grass, a lee—
half reminder of the men who served there—
a weathered monument to some of the dead.

Inside we follow the ranger, hurried
though we are to get to the beach. He tells
of graves lost in the Gulf, the island split
in half when Hurricane Camille hit,
shows us casemates, cannons, the store that sells
souvenirs, tokens of history long buried.

The Daughters of the Confederacy
has placed a plaque here, at the fort’s entrance—
each Confederate soldier’s name raised hard
in bronze; no names carved for the Native Guards—
2nd Regiment, Union men, black phalanx.
What is monument to their legacy?

All the grave markers, all the crude headstones—
water-lost. Now fish dart among their bones,
and we listen for what the waves intone.
Only the fort remains, near forty feet high,
round, unfinished, half open to the sky,
the elements—wind, rain—God’s deliberate eye.

Editor’s Note

This poem is from the collection Native Guard: Poems (Mariner Books, 2007) and is reprinted here by permission of the author.

Natasha Trethewey  

Natasha Trethewey is the author of four collections of poetry, the most recent, Thrall (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012), and a book of creative non-fiction, Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast (University of Georgia Press, 2010). She is Robert W. Woodruff Professor of English and Creative Writing at Emory University, where she directs the Creative Writing Program. In 2012 she was named Poet Laureate of the state of Mississippi and the 19th Poet Laureate of the United States.

Copyright © 2013 Center for the Study of the American South
Project MUSE® - View Citation
Natasha Trethewey. "Elegy for the Native Guards." Southern Cultures 19.3 (2013): 119-119. Project MUSE. Web. 8 Jan. 2014. <http://muse.jhu.edu/>.
Trethewey, N.(2013). Elegy for the Native Guards. Southern Cultures 19(3), 119. The University of North Carolina Press. Retrieved January 8, 2014, from Project MUSE database.
Natasha Trethewey. "Elegy for the Native Guards." Southern Cultures 19, no. 3 (2013): 119-119. http://muse.jhu.edu/ (accessed January 8, 2014).
T1 - Elegy for the Native Guards
A1 - Natasha Trethewey
JF - Southern Cultures
VL - 19
IS - 3
SP - 119
EP - 119
PY - 2013
PB - The University of North Carolina Press
SN - 1534-1488
UR - http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/southern_cultures/v019/19.3.trethewey.html
N1 - Volume 19, Number 3, Fall 2013
ER -


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