History Lesson in Black and White*

Mississippi Beach, 1947

 I am one in the grayscale photo, standing
on a wide strip of Mississippi beach,
balanced on dimpled, toddler legs.

My morning shadow stretches
toward the wooden pier behind me,
hinting of the woman I will become.

Across the highway, oak trees brush the sky.
I smile into the camera, unaware of my white privilege
and darker girls on separate “but equal” beaches.

It is August 1947, one month before the mighty oaks
are felled and the pier is crushed to kindling
by a great September storm.

Thirteen years before little Ruby Bridges.
Twenty-one years before colored only signs
succumb to storms of change, a long over-due tidal surge.

Twenty-three years before Natasha’s feet
leave prints in the sand where I once stood.

Kathleen Schrenk, 2018

*The inspiration for this poem came from Natasha Trethewey’s poem, “History Lesson,” from her book Domestic Work (Graywolf Press, 2000). You can read her beach poem here.