“Rotation,” a poem by Natasha Trethewey, illustrates the struggle to remember a loved one after he or she is gone. The speaker conveys the fleeting nature of memory by analyzing the shared characteristics of her father and the distant and disappearing moon. Although the speaker never indicates exactly what happened to her father, she portrays the difficulty of remembering special moments with him by emphasizing the similarities between her father and the waning moon.
The speaker utilizes figurative language to convey the trouble she encounters when trying to recollect her time with her father.
Most dominantly, the speaker presents a simile at the beginning of the first stanza comparing her father to “the moon that night” (line 1), which she continues to develop using imagery and repetition throughout the poem. She reflects upon how, like the moon, her father is now “a distant body” (2) and “outlined in a scrim of light” (8). The inclusion of these details captures the obscureness and haziness that impede the speaker’s memory as she attempts to imagine moments from her childhood.
Just as hundreds of thousands of miles separate the moon from earth, the time has caused the speaker to forget specific details and has naturally created a sense of distance and removal, making unattainable a clear account of the night she references. Several lines of the poem are repeated throughout the four stanzas. However, the speaker positions this repetition in such a way that the same words embody a new meaning of the simile. For example, as a child, the speaker looked up to her father “as if from the dark earth” (4), implying that her father served as a source of guidance as she encountered unfamiliar challenges and experiences.
Later in the poem, this same line contains a slightly different meaning as it is used to describe the speaker longingly looking back upon the cloudy memory of her father. The repetition of lines also enables the author to deliver the impression that the speaker returns to the same moment repeatedly to remember additional details. This structural choice can be connected to the cyclical movement of the moon which mirrors how the speaker’s thoughts seem to orbit around this one specific moment with her father. The disconnect the speaker experiences as the poem progresses seems to create a sense of grief and sorrow for the speaker as she becomes aware that the memory of her father “was already waning, turning to go” (12). Similar to how the moon gradually becomes less visible in the night sky as it progresses through the lunar phases, the speaker addresses that her memory of her father becomes fainter as time passes. By emphasizing the panic she experiences upon this realization, the speaker implies the importance of appreciating each moment we have with loved ones. Just as people all over the world can gaze up at the moon in the night sky, this message is universal as the deterioration of memory does not discriminate.
In conclusion, the imagery and repetition used to strengthen the simile introduced at the beginning of the poem allow the speaker to convey the loss of memory with time. As she continues to arrive upon the same lines, the speaker develops a strong connection between the moon and her father and successfully portrays the confusion she experiences without her father to guide her. Because the speaker does not reveal any unique information about her father, this simile is very relatable to all readers, as most people have lost a loved one at some point in their lives and are familiar with the sense of disconnect that follows.