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
here, he says turning this way and that—
the rails vibrating now, a train coming.
Published: 11 January 2011
© 2011 Natasha Trethewey and Southern Spaces