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

Pilgrimage

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.