Summer Poetry Award Winner: Louisiana Requiem by Heather Treseler

“Louisiana Requiem” hangs itself on your heart like Spanish moss. The poem expands with grace, like a full womb, from the first line to the last. Heather Treseler has earned the $2000 prize and Summer Poetry Award, because this poem, in language lush and maternal and profound, demands it. Leila Chatti and Aurora Masum-Javed—2nd and 3rd place respectively—will be published this week as well.


Louisiana Requiem

Eight months pregnant when your mother began hospice,
+++you sat in the driveway, belly ovoid as an imperial Fabergé

egg on the eve of the Bolshevik Revolution, or so you joked
+++with your dying mother whose love of metaphor shone

through the morphine fog and night air in Baton Rouge,
+++thick with magnolia three days gone and the sweeter

tang of silverbell: fecund humid buzzing air a soft coverlet
+++over your swollen limbs. You sat, mulling the bald

cypress trees older than your grandpa, who made the old
+++money selling insurance to the New South. A way,

he said, selling it, of investing in one’s blood, one’s kith
+++and kin, the next generation, whatever the Lord saw

fit to happen. Money, firm as a pillared manse, this grand
+++house turned palliative, which is to care for without

curing, cognate with pall and pallbearer, cloak and carrier
+++of the coffin before earth’s coverlet brings the body

home to its colder self. Just now, giving your mother water
+++and hummed song, you cushion the earthward journey,

her accession to gravity, longing in aqueous eyes, turned
+++inward and unseeing. All the while, the child inside

you assumes her own gravity, plotting descent, though her
+++head is stuck stubbornly under your ribs, her feet locked

against the pelvic gate. To carry a child, to bear the borning,
+++first labor of the endless labors, to concede to the gravity

of love’s body: those nights, sitting outside your mother’s dying
+++room, warm earth pressed against the backs of your bare

legs, your hand running over knobbed ribs of cobblestones
+++your father set down, years ago, in some Roman fancy

of having a drive like the Appian Way: timeless, enduring.
+++There, in earshot of the night nurse, you let night

envelop you in its perfume, blended scent a pagan incense,
+++the worship of nature and of the moon, rounding like

the child inside you, dimpling its impervious face as you
+++pray for the pain to recede from your mother’s body

and for the body, receding. And you are an entire country,
+++an America, stretched impossibly across a Mason Dixon

and two shores, nearing: the woman who bore you, daughter
+++you will bear, your body a hinge between its history

and future, an imperfect present tense. A scientist, dedicated
+++to the cool notice of detailed fact, resistant to the muddled

logic of metaphor, you nonetheless find yourself born
+++across by likeness in otherwise radical difference:

the shared violence that marks birth and death, mothering
+++the grade that governs the latitudes of the in-between.

Mother, no placid person or thing, but a rugged engine,
+++suing for peace: to bring forth a world from a fallen

world as a child from the long dark veins. Mother a river,
+++inexhaustible as water; a song of warmth and warning;

a map for the body, politic; a long cobbled road, umbilical,
+++built to outlast wreck and ruin, the death of empire.



Heather Treseler

Heather Treseler’s poems appear (or are forthcoming) in Harvard Review, The Iowa Review, Missouri Review, Southern Humanities Review, Obsidian, Alaska Quarterly Review, Salamander, and The Worcester Review, among other journals, and her essays on poetry appear in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Consequence, Boston Review, and in four books about American poetry. An associate professor of English at Worcester State University, she is a visiting scholar at the Brandeis Women’s Studies Research Center and, in 2018-19, a fellow at the Boston Athenaeum, where she is completing a manuscript of poems, “Thesaurus for a Year of Desire.” Her work has received support from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She lives outside of Boston.

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