Born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Eric “Rick” Peter Trethewey hitchhiked, at 17, to Kentucky State College after being awarded a full scholarship for track and field. Trethewey was a great sampler of life, and his unofficial résumé includes his work as lead singer of a band, songwriter and guitarist, reporter, longshoreman, and Louisiana Golden Gloves boxer—a light heavy-weight who threw a mighty punch. A veteran of the Royal Canadian Navy, Trethewey had a sense of mirth that existed tenuously, a slight notch above his profound sense of the necessity for righting wrongs. All of his life experiences richly influenced his well-respected poems, essays, and stories.
Trethewey earned a B.A. from Kentucky State College, an M.A. from the University of New Orleans, and a Ph.D. from Tulane University. He joined the Hollins faculty in 1985 and enjoyed a distinguished career as an author and an educator. His five acclaimed collections of poems include Dreaming of Rivers, Evening Knowledge (winner of the 1990 Virginia Prize in Poetry), The Long Road Home, Songs & Lamentations, and Heart’s Hornbook. His poems, stories, essays, and reviews have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies in the United States, Canada, and Great Britain. The Home Waltz, a screenplay, won the Virginia Governor’s Screenplay Competition in 1988.
—From the memorial service program, September 13, 2014
Frost on the Fields
so heavy it looks like snow at first.
And ice at the edge of the pond, in ditches too.
Everything contracts outside and inside:
sky the cold steel of November,
one more November starving what lives on warmth,
the year gone gaunt with it, the pastures brown,
brown the hillsides and the trees emptied of leaves,
the last of them swept off in a river of wind.
Later, walking, I see the frost has melted.
But the day’s hard light does not relent,
reveals all that it touches in keen-edged clarity,
even sodden leaves in the ditches,
a lash of dark birds flicking above the landscape,
bleached grass hugging the earth’s skull.
An oak leaf still stemmed to a branch tugs away
and sinks on the air, the landscape’s last lowered flag.
Hunkered on a post, a turkey buzzard
flaps into ungainly flight as I pass.
Why are we not better than we are?
All around me the dead leaves lie.
The day exhales one last breeze, subsides
to a stillness in which the germ of what is not yet
palpable pauses and gathers to begin one more time.
From Songs & Lamentations, 2004, WordTech Imprint, Cincinnati, Ohio