History Lesson

By Natasha Trethewey b. 1966 Natasha Trethewey
I am four in this photograph, standing   
on a wide strip of Mississippi beach,   
my hands on the flowered hips

of a bright bikini. My toes dig in,   
curl around wet sand. The sun cuts   
the rippling Gulf in flashes with each   

tidal rush. Minnows dart at my feet
glinting like switchblades. I am alone
except for my grandmother, other side   

of the camera, telling me how to pose.   
It is 1970, two years after they opened   
the rest of this beach to us,   

forty years since the photograph   
where she stood on a narrow plot   
of sand marked colored, smiling,

her hands on the flowered hips   
of a cotton meal-sack dress.

Natasha Trethewey, “History Lesson” from Domestic Work. Copyright © 2000 by Natasha Tretheway. Reprinted with the permission of Graywolf Press, St. Paul, Minnesota, www.graywolfpress.org.

Source: Domestic Work (Graywolf Press, 2000)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Natasha Trethewey b. 1966

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Subjects Social Commentaries, Arts & Sciences, Relationships, Family & Ancestors, Race & Ethnicity, Photography & Film, History & Politics

 Natasha  Trethewey

Biography

Natasha Trethewey was born in Gulfport, Mississippi, the daughter of poet, professor, and Canadian emigrant Eric Trethewey and social worker Gwendolyn Ann Turnbough. The daughter of a mixed-race marriage, Trethewey experienced her parents’ divorce when she was six. She subsequently spent time in Atlanta, Georgia, with her mother and in New Orleans, Louisiana, with her father. Encouraged to read as a child, Trethewey studied . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Social Commentaries, Arts & Sciences, Relationships, Family & Ancestors, Race & Ethnicity, Photography & Film, History & Politics

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.