When he tells the story now
he’s at the center of it,
everyone else in the house
falling into the backdrop–
my mother, grandmother,
an uncle, all dead now–props
in our story: father and daughter
caught in memory’s half-light.
I’m too young to recall it,
so his story becomes the story:
1969, Hurricane Camille
bearing down, the old house
shuddering as if it will collapse.
Rain pours into every room
and he has to keep moving,
keep me out of harm’s way–
a father’s first duty: to protect.
And so, in the story, he does:
I am small in his arms, perhaps
even sleeping. Water is rising
around us and there is no
higher place he can take me
than this, memory forged
in the storm’s eye: a girl
clinging to her father. What
can I do but this? Let him
tell it again and again as if
it’s always been only us,
and that, when it mattered,
he was the one who saved me.
Trethewey, a Mississippi native, is a two-time U.S. poet laureate and a Pulitzer Prize winner. Her new collection, Monument, will be published in November
This story is part of TIME’s August 6 special issue on the American South. Discover more from the issue here.
This appears in the August 06, 2018 issue of TIME.
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