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Graveyard Blues

It rained the whole time we were laying her down;
Rained from church to grave when we put her down.
The suck of mud at our feet was a hollow sound.

When the preacher called out I held up my hand;
When he called for a witness I raised my hand—
Death stops the body’s work, the soul’s a journeyman.

The sun came out when I turned to walk away,
Glared down on me as I turned and walked away—
My back to my mother, leaving her where she lay.

The road going home was pocked with holes,
That home-going road’s always full of holes;
Though we slow down, time’s wheel still rolls.

I wander now among names of the dead:
My mother’s name, stone pillow for my head.

—Natasha Trethewey

I’ve been looking for poems written in song form because I’m trying to incorporate some into the collection that I’m currently working on, and I keep coming back to this poem because it has the exact rhythm that I’ve been looking for.

I typically try to avoid writing poems that contain end rhyme, particularly words that repeat on the end of the lines like they do here, but it’s almost necessary when you’re writing for musicality. And I love the way this poem sounds. The repetition is more than just repeating a word; it’s hammering it home, and it works very well in this poem. All of these lines need each other, but they’re also very interesting on their own. I love the marriage of the second and third lines of each stanza, but many of them can stand alone, too: “The suck of mud at our feet was a hollow sound,” “That home-going road’s always full of holes,” and “Though we slow down, time’s wheel still rolls.” Listen to the rhyme: suck, mud, stops, body, soul’s, journey, going, road, though, slow, wheel, still, wander, mother. Sound is one of the things I love most about poetry. I’ve also realized I’ve got a lot to learn.

“Graveyard Blues” first appeared in PMS: Poetry Memoir Story, and can be found in Trethewey’s Native Guard.


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