An interdisciplinary journal about regions, places, and cultures of the US South and their global connections
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  • Elegy for the Native Guards

    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.


    Published: 10 June 2005
    © 2005 Natasha Trethewey and Southern Spaces