Natasha Trethewey is trying to redeem herself — or at least the aspect of herself she lost when she buried the emotional memory of her mother’s tragic death. Her collection of poems, Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoirs, represents an attempt to unearth the past with clarity and insight, adding prose and metaphor to speak to her younger self in the second person. For her, it is the use of such literary devices that enables one to begin to make sense of what otherwise would be senseless and chaotic in an unpredictable world, a world where we often struggle to understand and articulate our own stories. 

Her mother’s story became inextricably bound with her vocation as a writer, as she expresses in her poem, “Articulation“:

How, then, could I not answer her life
with mine, she who saved me with hers?
And how could I not, bathed in the light
of her wound find my calling there?

In the same poem, while contemplating a portrait of Saint Gertrude and the sacred heart of Christ, her deceased mother visits her in a dream, “her body whole again but for one perfect wound, the singular articulation of all of them: a whole, center of her forehead, the size of a wafer — light pouring from it.Our wholeness as humans depends not on the abnegation of our sufferings, but rather on embracing the pain that interlaces our narratives yet cannot determine our identity. Who we are is organically enmeshed in the perfect wounds of Christ. For eternity, he will bear the scars that not only tell the story of redemption, but that also acknowledge the afflictions that shape us and remain a part of the little stories we write as we attempt to navigate our daily experience. 

In a recent interview with the PBS Newshour, Natasha expounded on the existential wound that gives life in the difficult places we least expect to find consolation: 

I don’t think I’d be a writer without that existential wound. As Lorca pointed out, that in trying to heal the wound that never heals lies the strangeness in an artist’s work, that kind of awareness of death that can make something, not just beautiful, but something also meaningful in a different way. I think, at 19, I was telling myself that I had experienced that wound, and that I would have to make something of it. And, as Rumi said, the wound is the place where the light enters you. And it did.

Yes, the wound is the place where the light enters. It’s in the broken places where we tend to see most clearly and hear God’s voice: namely the Word of God who became flesh, not to save us from our sufferings, but to identify with our pain and give us hope.