Letter Home by Natasha Trethewey

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– New Orleans, November 1910

Four weeks have passed since I left, and still
I must write to you of no work. I’ve worn down
the soles and walked through the tightness
of my new shoes calling upon the merchants,
their offices bustling. All the while I kept thinking
my plain English and good writing would secure
for me some modest position. Though I dress each day
in my best, hands covered with the lace gloves
you crocheted –no one needs a girl. How flat
the word sounds, and heavy. My purse thins.
I spend foolishly to make an appearance of quiet
industry, to mask the desperation that tightens
my throat. I sit watching –

though I pretend not to notice – the dark maids
ambling by with their white charges. Do I deceive
anyone? Were they to see my hands, brown
as your dear face, they’d know I’m not quite
what I pretend to be. I walk these streets
a white woman, or so I think, until I catch the eyes
of some stranger upon me, and I must lower mine,
a negress again. There are enough things here
to remind me who I am. Mules lumbering through
the crowded streets send me into reverie, their footfall
the sound of a pointer and chalk hitting the blackboard
at school, only louder. Then there are women, clicking
their tongues in conversation, carrying their loads
on their heads. Their husky voices, the wash pots
and irons of the laundresses call to me.

I thought not to do the work I once did, back bending
and domestic; my schooling a gift – even those half days
at picking time, listening to Miss J–. How
I’d come to know words, the recitations I practiced
to sound like her, lilting, my sentences curling up
or trailing off at the ends. I read my books until
I nearly broke their spines, and in the cotton field,
I repeated whole sections I’d learned by heart,
spelling each word in my head to make a picture
I could see, as well as a weight I could feel
in my mouth. So now, even as I write this
and think of you at home, Goodbye

is the waving map of your palm, is
a stone on my tongue.

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Calypso by Mary O’Malley

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The moon juts her high rump over the town,                                                                                      the tide rises with intent to clarify and drown.

In a dream, a boat moves over the grass.
I know her, twenty-eight foot and a mast.

The Lister engine drums like a snipe. She cuts
towards me. Two swift strokes,

Matisse blue, part the water in a V.
All I want, after the fire’s hard craquelure,

is this shape, the square root of love reduced
to longing, a soft vowel held by two hard

consonants. The dreamworld insists
it is dangerous to burn away more than this.

The debris of my years is plaited into her rough tide.
I steer for the point, with its shield of stormcloud.

I will try to find, on this journey, someone
who has the recipe for honeycombs.

I leave my home – there are no companions –
and step aboard my father’s boat with this instruction:

forget the stars. The cleated angle where the sky
meets to form a roof is all you can rely on now.

Two flicks of the oars and she responds, light as a wishbone,
the gods’ capricious gift for this art of being alone.