• Stanzas: Natasha Trethewey

    Huan He


    Perhaps it is because I recently moved to the South (Nashville, to be exact) that I have found my way back to Natasha Trethewey’s Native Guard. Her poem “Letter” contains eight couplets, the final one being a frayed end:

    because of the way you left me: how suddenly
    a simple errand, a letter—everything—can go wrong.

    The speaker reflects on a miswording—errant instead of errand—in a quick letter sent to a friend after a move. The poem fixates on the sculptural form of an individual letter, the “upright backbone” of the in errant or d in errand. Sculptures shape one’s material environment, from the play of light and shadow, perspective and position, depth and flatness, physicality and imagination. The architecture of the singular letter can be a portal to a peculiar dimension. In the way that familiar words become strange when we stare at them extendedly, the singular letter can be unfaithful—to meaning, to a memory, to a friend.

    The slip-up is always sudden, and we can be left wondering: How did we get here? The Latin root err means “to stray, wander.” The world of letters is, as Theresa Hak Kyung Cha would say, a “perpetual motion of search.” In this stanza, the power in these two lines resides in the line break—“how suddenly”—suggesting that mundane moments can puncture us most. As we move through the world to new places and new stages, memories, like words, catch us off-guard and can conjure a sense of betrayal—“because of the way you left me: how suddenly.” Learning to inhabit error might be one way to inhabit the world.

    Huan He is the author of Sandman (2022), which won the 2021 Diode Editions Chapbook Contest. His poems appear or are forthcoming in Beloit Poetry Journal, A Public Space, Colorado Review, Gulf Coast, and elsewhere. Currently, he is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Michigan. In Fall 2023, he will be an Assistant Professor of English at Vanderbilt University.

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