We tell the story every year—
how we peered from the windows, shades drawn—
though nothing really happened,
the charred grass now green again.
We peered from the windows, shades drawn,
at the cross trussed like a Christmas tree,
the charred grass still green. Then
we darkened our rooms, lit the hurricane lamps.
At the cross trussed like a Christmas tree,
a few men gathered, white as angels in their gowns.
We darkened our rooms and lit hurricane lamps,
the wicks trembling in their fonts of oil.
It seemed the angels had gathered, white men in their gowns.
When they were done, they left quietly. No one came.
The wicks trembled all night in their fonts of oil;
by morning the flames had all dimmed.
When they were done, the men left quietly. No one came.
Nothing really happened.
By morning all the flames had dimmed.
We tell the story every year.
“Incident,” from Native Guard: Poems by Natasha Trethewey. Copyright 2006 by Natasha Trethewey. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved. Order Thrall here.
Watch to Natasha Trethewey read “Incident” here or below.
Natasha Trethewey served two terms as the 19th Poet Laureate of the United States (2012-2014). She is the author of four collections of poetry: Thrall (2012); Native Guard (2006), for which she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize; Bellocq’s Ophelia (2002); and Domestic Work (2000), which was selected by Rita Dove as the winner of the inaugural Cave Canem Poetry Prize for the best first book by an African-American poet and won the 2001 Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Book Prize and 2001 Lillian Smith Award for Poetry. Her book of nonfiction, Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, appeared in 2010. She is the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Beinecke Library at Yale, and the Bunting Fellowship Program of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard. At Emory University she is the Robert W. Woodruff Professor of English and Creative Writing. In 2012, she was named Poet Laureate of the State of Mississippi and in 2013 she was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.