Archive for the ‘letter’ Category

Letter Home

–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.

-Natasha Trethewey


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All these refusals, do not forget it, my love, have to do with your power. If I were free, if my heart were not bound like a star into the relationships of the irrefutable spirit, then every word, from which rebellion in formed here, denial, complaint – would be Your fame, crossing over to You, agreement, the rush toward you – fall and resurrection in You.

If I were a man of graspable compass, a merchant, a teacher of comprehensible things, an artisan….

-Rainer Maria Rilke, from 4X1: Works by Tristan Tzara, Rainer Maria Rilke, Jean-Pierre Duprey, and Habib Tengour

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