Gris-Gris, an online journal of literature, culture & the arts


by Natasha Trethewey


Vicksburg, Mississippi

Here, the Mississippi carved

++++ its mud-dark path, a graveyard


for skeletons of sunken riverboats.

++++ Here, the river changed its course,


turning away from the city

++++ as one turns, forgetting, from the past—


the abandoned bluffs, land sloping up

+++ above the river’s bend—where now


the Yazoo fills the Mississippi’s empty bed.

++++ Here, the dead stand up in stone, white


marble, on Confederate Avenue. I stand

++++ on ground once hollowed by a web of caves;


they must have seemed like catacombs,

++++ in 1863, to the woman sitting in her parlor,


candlelit, underground. I can see her

++++ listening to shells explode, writing herself


into history, asking what is to become

+++ of all the living things in this place?


This whole city is a grave. Every spring—

++++ Pilgrimage—the living come to mingle


with the dead, brush against their cold shoulders

++++ in the long hallways, listen all night


to their silence and indifference, relive

++++ their dying on the green battlefield.


At the museum, we marvel at their clothes—

++++ preserved under glass—so much smaller


than our own, as if those who wore them

++++ were only children. We sleep in their beds,


the old mansions hunkered on the bluffs, draped

++++ in flowers—funereal—a blur


of petals against the river’s gray.

++++ The brochure in my room calls this


living history. The brass plate on the door reads

++++ Prissy’s Room. A window frames


the river’s crawl toward the Gulf. In my dream,

++++ the ghost of history lies down beside me,


rolls over, pins me beneath a heavy arm.