New Year addition: Anthology of Personal Favorite Poems


Addition to my ***Anthology of Favorite Poems.***

“Theories of Time and Space.”
By Natasha Trethewey, in Native Guard
(Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006; p. 1)

You can get there from here; though
there’s no going home.

Everywhere you go will be somewhere
you’ve never been. Try this:

head south on Mississippi 49, one-
by-one mile markers ticking off

another minute of your life. Follow this
to its natural conclusion—dead end

at the coast, the pier at Gulfport where
riggings of shrimp boats are loose stitches

in a sky threatening rain. Cross over
the man-made beach, 26 miles of sand

dumped on the mangrove swamp—buried
terrain of the past. Bring only

what you must carry—tome of memory,
its random blank pages. On the dock

where you board the boat for Ship Island,
someone will take your picture;

the photograph—who you were—
will be waiting when you return.


I have never been in Gulfport, Mississippi, nor driven that state’s highway 49. But I have been on a similar journey along the route described in this poem.

When I went off to college in Massachusetts, my parents moved to Noyack, a tiny village on the north shore of Long Island’s southern fork in the easternmost county of New York State. They built a retirement home on the coast of Little Peconic Bay, and in the ensuing years, I frequently made the six-hour drive between Massachusetts’ North Shore and Noyack (which locals continue to spell as Noyac).

Making this trip coming south offered two options: a longer and more tiring drive down Interstate 95 to New York’s Throggs Neck Bridge and then south through or around Brooklyn, which meant a two-hour trip on the Long Island Expressway (abbreviated as the LIE and scorned by locals as “The Big Lie” because it rarely was an “express” route). The LIE leads to New York State Route 27 (often called “The Sunrise Highway”) somewhere around Riverhead. It veers into Hampton Bays and over the Shinnecock Canal that allows vessels to sail from Great Peconic Bay to the Atlantic Ocean. After a few more miles, a driver arrives at Tuckahoe Village and must turn left onto North Sea Road (which was known to Noyac residents as the “blacktop road”). North Sea Road connects to Noyack Road, and a half-hour along this road leads to Noyac.

The blacktop road is two lanes on which I frequently drove at night for forty minutes without dimming my headlights. The eyes of many small creatures on the berm of the highway reflected my beams as I approached. These drives are burned into my “tome of memory” that Trethewey resurrects.

A second trip option driving home from New England to Noyac involved leaving Interstate 95 in Connecticut and driving into New London to catch the ferry that crossed the Long Island Sound in a quiet and relaxing hour to New York State. After disembarking at Orient Point, it was always for me the “everywhere” that was “somewhere you’ve never been before” on the eastern tip of Long Island’s northern fork.

From Orient Point to Noyack involved a half-hour-plus of driving west on NY State Highway 25 to Greenport to catch the tiny ferry to Shelter Island’s northern ferry slip, and then driving across Shelter Island to its south ferry slip, crossing to the southern fork of Long Island and driving another twenty minutes through North Haven to Noyac.


On none of the ferries did anyone offer to snap my photograph, though, I suspect I took many myself in New London and while aboard the Sound Ferry Crossing.

The state roads I drove were kin, I believe, to Trethewey’s Mississippi 49, roads leading, in the mystery of time and space, to a place I’ve never been before no matter how many times I’ve driven the route.

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What strikes me from the poem is that any pictures of me would be pictures of who I was before. In the truest sense, photographs capture discrete instants of time. We may have learned to call our cameras “instant cameras,” but instant is an ironic label for a split-second of time and space. We must, from the mystery of memory, supply any context to the photos.

This mystery applies going forward as well. “Everywhere you go will be somewhere/you’ve never been.”

I suspect this also captures something of the mystery we call “eternity.”


Natasha Trethewey is a professor of English and Creative Writing at Atlanta’s Emory University. Native Guard, a collection of 26 poems (Boston: Houghton Mifflin. 2006), was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 2007. In 2012 and 2013, she was the Poet Laureate of the United States. She is a native of Gulfport, Mississippi.
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