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  • Elegy for the Native Guards
  • Poetry by Natasha Trethewey

Now that the salt of their bloodStiffens the saltier oblivion of the sea …

—Allen Tate

We leave Gulfport at noon; gulls overheadtrailing the boat—streamers, noisy fanfare—all the way to Ship Island. What we seefirst 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, hurriedthough we are to get to the beach. He tellsof graves lost in the Gulf, the island splitin half when Hurricane Camille hit,shows us casemates, cannons, the store that sellssouvenirs, tokens of history long buried.

The Daughters of the Confederacyhas placed a plaque here, at the fort’s entrance—each Confederate soldier’s name raised hardin 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. [End Page 119]

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.