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)

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