An interdisciplinary journal about regions, places, and cultures of the US South and their global connections
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    At the bottom of the exit ramp
    my father waits for us, one foot
    on the curb, right hand hooked
    in the front pocket of his jeans,
    a stack of books beneath his arm.
    It’s 1971, the last year we’re still
    together. My mother and I travel
    this road, each week, to meet him—
    I-10 from Mississippi to New Orleans—
    and each time we pull off the highway
    I see my father like this: raising his thumb
    to feign hitchhiking—a stranger
    passing through to somewhere else.



    At Wolf River my father is singing.
    The sun is shining and there’s a cooler
    of Pabst in the shade. He is singing
    and playing the guitar—the sad songs
    I hide from each time: a man pining
    for Irene or Clementine, a woman dead
    on a slab at St. James. I’m too young to know
    this is foreshadowing.  To get away from
    the blues I don’t understand, I wade in water
    shallow enough to cross. On the bank
    at the other side, I look back at him as if
    across the years: he’s smaller, his voice
    lost in the distance between us.



    On the Gulf and Ship Island Line
    my father and I walk the rails south
    toward town. More than twenty years
    gone, he’s come back to see this place,
    recollect what he’s lost. What he recalls
    of my childhood is here. We find it
    in the brambles of blackberry, the coins
    flattened on the tracks. We can’t help it—
    already, we’re leaning too hard
    toward metaphor: my father searching
    for the railroad switch. It was here, right
    , he says turning this way and that—
    the rails vibrating now, a train coming.

    Published: 11 January 2011
    © 2011 Natasha Trethewey and Southern Spaces