Coyotes Howl in Fallbrook

in Poetry

A Poem by Mike Croghan

I first came to know Natasha Trethewey’s work while doing research for a novel I am writing. Native Guard is a collection of her poems about a regiment of African American troops who garrisoned a fort off the Louisiana coast during the Civil War. Her poems of those men and those times took me there, conjured scenes and conversations I used in my depictions of Civil War times and events.

Another of Trethewey’s collections is Domestic Work. Reading this book was, for me, like watching a series of videotaped scenes taken of my wife and her family during my wife’s growing years. Scenes and interpretations of those years are depicted most clearly in her poem of the same name.

Domestic Work is repeated below, with Trethewey's permission. Inspired — no, taken away! — by her work, I wrote the poem that follows, Natasha's Photos of Dot. I thank Natasha for her imagery and try to create my own.                                                                                                              – Mike
Domestic Work, 1937
by Natasha Trethewey

All week she’s cleaned Someone else’s house, Stared down her own face In the shine of copper-bottomed pots, polished Wood, toilets she’d pull the lid to – that look saying

Let’s make a change, girl.

But Sunday mornings are hers — Church clothes starched And hanging — a record spinning on the console, the whole house dancing.  She raises the shades, washes the rooms in light, Buckets of water, Octagon soap.

Cleanliness is next to godliness . . .

Windows and doors flung wide, Curtains two stepping Forward and back, neck bones Bumping in the pot, a choir Of clothes clapping on the line.

Nearer my god to Thee . . .

She beats time on the rugs, Blows dust from the broom Like dandelion spores, each one A wish for something better.

Natasha's Photos of Dot
by Mike Croghan

Through your poetry I see her in the photos. Flashing hands leathered by work and heat Thousands of plucks Of the cotton balls Daily done Begun at dawn.

I see her in your photopoems, Natasha. Hands plying Calloused tough Dancing fingers Pinching suckers Snatching worms Weaving string Across the thick stems And long poles Of tobacco leafs.

Your imagery, Natasha, so clear. I see the beads of sweat Drip down her steely countenance Her grace and poise, Soaking her clothes. Such a burden for a young girl, A burden Shrinking her tenacity Weighing down her determination Slowing her production

Not one iota.

The photo you took, Natasha Is the photo I’ve longed to have. One taken when she was young More than half a century ago In the fields In their homes She and hers had no brownie Making me wait this half century To see photos of her In your poetry.

Worth the wait. You must know Natasha, Worth the wait.