NEW YORK (Reuters) - The following is a poem by Natasha Trethewey, who on Thursday became only the second Southerner appointed as poet laureate.
Trethewey, 46, born in Gulfport, Mississippi, and author of three poetry collections, is the first African-American to be awarded the honor since Rita Dove in 1993.
This poem is from her third collection, "Native Guard," which won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in poetry. It was inspired by the union of her parents - her mother was black and her father was white. Mixed marriages were a crime in the mid-1960s in Mississippi.
In 1965 my parents broke two laws of Mississippi;
They went to Ohio to marry, returned to Mississippi
They crossed the river into Cincinnati, a city whose name
begins with a sound like sin, the sound of wrong-mis in Mississippi.
A year later they moved to Canada, followed a route the same
as slaves, the train slicing the white glaze of winter, leaving Mississippi
Faulkner's Joe Christmas was born in winter, like Jesus, given his name
for the day he was left at the orphanage, his race was unknown in Mississippi.
My father was reading War and Peace when he gave his name.
I was born near Easter, 1966, in Mississippi.
When I turned 33 my father said, It's your Jesus year - you're the same
age he was when he died. It was spring, the hills green in Mississippi
I know more than Joe Christmas did. Natasha is a Russian name -
though I'm not; it means Christmas child, even in Mississippi.
(Excerpted from the book NATIVE GUARD by Natasha Trethewey. Copyright (c) 2006 by Natasha Trethewey. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.)
(Reporting By Christine Kearney, Editing Jill Serjeant)