Kitchen Maid with Supper at Emmaus, or The Mulata
—after the painting by Diego Velàzquez, ca. 1619
She is the vessels on the table before her:
the copper pot tipped toward us, the white pitcher
clutched in her hand, the black one edged in red
and upside down. Bent over, she is the mortar
and the pestle at rest in the mortar—still angled
in its posture of use. She is the stack of bowls
and the bulb of garlic beside it, the basket hung
by a nail on the wall and the white cloth bundled
in it, the rag in the foreground recalling her hand.
She's the stain on the wall the size of her shadow—
the color of blood, the shape of a thumb. She is echo
of Jesus at table, framed in the scene behind her:
his white corona, her white cap. Listening, she leans
into what she knows. Light falls on half her face.
—from Thrall (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012), reprinted with the permission of the poet
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.
—from Domestic Work (Graywolf Press, 2000), reprinted with the permission of the poet
The Southern Crescent
In 1959 my mother is boarding a train.
She is barely sixteen, her one large grip
bulging with homemade dresses, whisper
of crinoline and lace, her name stitched
inside each one. She is leaving behind
the dirt roads of Mississippi, the film
of red dust around her ankles, the thin
whistle of wind through the floorboards
of the shotgun house, the very idea of home.
Ahead of her, days of travel, one town
after the next, and California, a word
she can't stop repeating. Over and over
she will practice meeting her father, imagine
how he must look, how different now
from the one photo she has of him. She will
look at it once more, pulling into the station
at Los Angeles, and then again and again
on the platform, no one like him in sight.
The year the old Crescent makes its last run,
my mother insists we ride it together.
We leave Gulfport late morning, heading east.
Years before, we rode together to meet
another man, my father, waiting for us
as our train derailed. I don't recall how
she must have held me, how her face sank
as she realized, again, the uncertainty
of it all—that trip, too, gone wrong. Today,
she is sure we can leave home, bound only
for whatever awaits us, the sun now
setting behind us, the rails humming
like anticipation, the train pulling us
toward the end of another day. I watch
each small town pass before my window
until the light goes, and the reflection
of my mother's face appears, clearer now
as evening comes on, dark and certain.
—from Native Guard (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006), reprinted with the permission of the poet