Elegy for the Native Guards
By Natasha Trethewey
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.
From Poet's Choice by Robert Pinsky in The Washington Post Book World. "Natasha Trethewey's remarkable new book, Native Guard, takes its title from the unit of black Union soldiers assigned to guard Confederate prisoners of war," he explans. "This piece of American history, previously unknown to me as I assume it is to most readers, took place at Fort Massachusetts on Ship Island in the state of Mississippi, where Trethewey was born. The book's title sequence presents some of the history in a series of poems in the first person: the voice of a slavery-born Native Guard soldier who recounts, for example, the recorded incident where white Union troops fired on the Native Guard rather than on the white Confederate enemy. (An 'unfortunate incident,' in a colonel's words as Trethewey reports and annotates them.) The adjective 'deliberate' for God's eye has many resonances and associations, including the word's form as a verb, denoting the process of judgment by a court of law. Like the poem's formality and understatement, the word achieves authority, moral and poetic."
After writing three articles in the morning, including one about How William Shatner Changed the World which is on the History Channel Sunday night and another on the new Five Year Mission extended edition of Free Enterprise because who can have too much Shatner, I spent a lovely sunny 70 degree afternoon at Huntley Meadows Park in Virginia, where we saw snakes, a huge variety of turtles, geese, ducks, fish, tadpoles and assorted other critters. And I don't even want to discuss how I spent my evening except to say that I am never, ever doing it again -- at least the insanity I complain about with relatives involves people I actually know and care about. But to end on a happy note, the rat-squirrel is not extinct!
This is just a small sampling of the turtles...okay, not a small sampling of turtles, but I didn't have time or energy to resize the giant snapping turtle or some of the other painted turtles. I have never had so many together in one photo before.
How did I not know that Russell Crowe was going to be on The Tonight Show on Friday? Waah, I'm slipping. Did he say anything besides the fact that he and Danielle are expecting another boy?
Sunday: Purim Carnival. Am not dressing up. Well, not as Queen Esther. Maybe as a wicked witch.