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Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

One reviewer of Native Guard has suggested that the book is constructed around a dialectic involving “the autobiographical as thesis, the historical as antithesis, and the intertwining of the personal and the historical as synthesis.” The book’s first section opens with “The Southern Crescent,” which tells of three trips taken by Trethewey’s mother. The first is a train trip to California in 1959 that represents a futile effort to connect with her father. The second, parallel trip eastward on the last run of the “old Crescent” is fraught with memories of yet another trip years before to meet Natasha’s father, “that trip, too, gone wrong.” The poem is a tribute to Trethewey’s tight formalism. The two numbered sections of two nine-line stanzas apiece might be said to suggest the parallel rails or the movements forward and back in time and place. As is often the case in Trethewey’s poems, the familial males are present primarily in their absence. Although the lines cannot be said to be metered in any strictly iambic way, the poet adheres fairly closely to a ten-syllable line. The major exception to that adherence occurs in the initial line, in which she makes no syllabic compensation for the numerical date (1959).