Get Lit Minute

Natasha Trethewey | “Imperatives for Carrying On in the Aftermath”

November 08, 2021 Get Lit - Words Ignite Season 3 Episode 25
Get Lit Minute
Natasha Trethewey | “Imperatives for Carrying On in the Aftermath”
Show Notes

In this week's episode of the Get Lit Minute, your weekly poetry podcast, we spotlight the life and work of American poet and spoken-word artist, Natasha Trethewey. A former US poet laureate, Trethewey is the author of five collections of poetry: Monument (2018), Thrall (2012), Native Guard (2006), Bellocq’s Ophelia (2002), and Domestic Work (2000). She is also the author of a book of creative non-fiction: Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast (2010). Source

This episode includes a reading of her poem, “Imperatives for Carrying On in the Aftermath”, featured in our 2021 Get Lit Anthology.

“Imperatives for Carrying On in the Aftermath”

Do not hang your head or clench your fists

when even your friend, after hearing the story,

says: My mother would never put up with that.


Fight the urge to rattle off statistics: that,

more often, a woman who chooses to leave

is then murdered. The hundredth time


your father says, But she hated violence,

why would she marry a guy like that?

don’t waste your breath explaining, again,


how abusers wait, are patient, that they

don’t beat you on the first date, sometimes

not even the first few years of a marriage.


Keep an impassive face whenever you hear

Stand by Your Man, and let go your rage

when you recall those words were advice


given your mother. Try to forget the first

trial, before she was dead, when the charge

was only attempted murder; don’t belabor


the thinking or the sentence that allowed

her ex-husband’s release a year later, or

the juror who said, It’s a domestic issue—


they should work it out themselves. Just

breathe when, after you read your poems

about grief, a woman asks: Do you think


your mother was weak for men? Learn

to ignore subtext. Imagine a thought-

cloud above your head, dark and heavy


with the words you cannot say; let silence

rain down. Remember you were told

by your famous professor, that you should


write about something else, unburden

yourself of the death of your mother and

just pour your heart out in the poems.


Ask yourself what’s in your heart, that

reliquary—blood locket and seed-bed—and

contend with what it means, the folk-saying


you learned from a Korean poet in Seoul:

that one does not bury the mother’s body

in the ground but in the chest, or—like you—


you carry her corpse on your back.

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