Southern History

Natasha Trethewey

Before the war, they were happy, he said,
quoting our textbook. (This was senior-year

history class.) The slaves were clothed, fed,
and better-off under a master’s care.

I watched the words blur on the page. No one
raised a hand, disagreed. Not even me.

It was late; we still had Reconstruction
to cover before the test, and—luckily—

three hours of watching Gone with the Wind.
History, the teacher said, of the Old South—

a true account of how things were back then.
On screen a slave stood big as life: big mouth,

bucked eyes, our textbook’s grinning proof—a lie
my teacher guarded. Silent, so did I.
© 2007 University of North Carolina Greensboro
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NATASHA TRETHEWEY is author of Bellocq’s Ophelia (Graywolf, 2002) and Domestic Work (Graywolf, 2000). Her third collection, Native Guard, is forthcoming from Houghton Mifflin in 2006. She is Associate Professor of English at Emory University in Atlanta, GA.