Winner of the Dr. Sherwin W. Howard Poetry Award
Camille Dungy is the author of What to Eat, What to Drink, What to Leave for Poison (Red Hen Press, 2006). She has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, The Virginia Commission for the Arts, and Bread Loaf. Assistant editor of Gathering Ground: A Reader Celebrating Cave Canemís First Decade (University of Michigan Press, 2006), Dungy is Associate Professor in the Creative Writing Department at San Francisco State University. Read other poetry by Camille Dungy published in Weber Studies: Vol. 19.3.
Five for Truth
Maybe you, too, have heard something but havenít seen the thing,
longer than a moment
at a sound that sounds like the moan of a man
losing his spleen to a gullís beak.
It is likely only a bull seal reporting to his neighbors, but
you know something of seals.
Imagine the sailor who, in 1682, saw his first seal.
Its bloat and bob and doggish float,
so like and unlike a water-logged manís,
drew up a body to buoy the sound of his shipwrecked fears.
two hours past midnight and three continents from home, I heard a wild boar rooting
just outside my camp.
Certainly, we all have heard something we havenít seen
and the hearing,
which should have been an answer,
has become a question
Itís wood cracking,
under what weight?
Itís a rock sliding,
The old man has mistaken his niece for his sister.
And would you fault his memory its vision?
Are you the lone one who has never confused one face with anotherís name?
But it was you, remember, who mistook the other black girl for the one
your friend said you should get to know.
And it was you, or someone
quite like you in appearance,
who, thinking he was somebody famous,
positioned yourself beside that no one on the train.
These misperceptions are nothing
that hasnít happened before.
Youíve heard, perhaps, of the masseur who gained his sight at 50?
Everything heíd known in blindness turned into something slightly horrible with sight.
His cat, his dog: the animals he loved,
the stiff or swollen limbs of clients,
all these were varied,
wonderful beneath his fingers
but hardly differentiable,
before his unaccustomed eyes.
I have never been afraid of water, and yet I am always a little afraid
of what might be floating in it.
Take my friend who, on the beach at age four, found a pretty thing to play with:
a Portuguese man-of-war.
My fear is the fear of his mother seeing her son,
his mouth almost inside the luminous jelly.
Certain fear touches us like that,
leaving only the taste of its skin on our tongue.
Who isnít afraid of being the one disaster touches?
They say itís normal, but the way, lately, if I pull the skin along my clavicle, it folds easily
and brings with it all that loose fleshÖ
This is mostly all I have
to worry and be glad about:
feeling my own body growing old.
When gambling your senses, wager taste. Youíd still have touch,
so you would know what textures you chewed. Youíd have sight.
Like Johnny Carson, who had no taste, youíd still have your lips,
your American teeth, even, probably, your tongue.
Life is a chain of compensations.
My friend who drinks and smokes
and snorts the occasional powdered drug says sheíll throw herself from the top of a Mayan temple
when the cancer settles in.
Iíve seen this friend gash her forehead on the fan hung over a bar she danced on
and watched her keep dancing through the end of her tequila and two songs.
I wonder if my friend knows
at which stage of her ruin,
she plans to let herself fly.
One thing I like about the nose is how it lacks imagination.
Just last night I woke up dreaming of a body in the forest. No one I recognized. Maggots
busily erasing the flesh around her nostrils, her impossibly twisted arm.
Or was it alongside a road I saw her body?
Where are we turning up
dead girls these days?
She had fruit in her hand.
Though I would not,
it was so ripe it seemed a shame to not taste it.
I could feel the moss she rested in
springing up after my discovering feet had passed. I could imagine hearing
how sheíd caterwauled in terror. In my bed, last night, I woke up, afraid
to touch her, because I knew how she would feel,
and I wanted nothing to do with that feeling.
One thing I donít like about the imagination is how it can turn against me
when I let it go.
Let me, now please, bless my nose,
the least creative of my organs:
Because you are, in this way, a failure, the smell of her terror was not, this morning, in my bed.
Bless you for not pretending to know a thing you havenít.
How She Keeps Faith
Dream Lake, headwaters of the Colorado
Come to the quiet time, water still in bed,
to the rock, dissimulated by the rush but still
Stone like knees and elbows,
like fingers, the skull around eyes,
like calves, thighs, and forearms, loglong,
lying in and resting in the bed.
a body, turning as rock turns, with and against
The meadowlong meander coming lateró
the straightsurge down mountain coming soon.
* * *
Here. Now. This little time
when rock sees himself in her bed.
Before things are muddied,
the turbulence recalled by walls that they have built.
Before water must confront the powerlust
of men and
stay or be stayed
move or be moved
by some damwill beyond her own.
not with her anymore but always set against her.
Nowhere to run but into the field.
no more her bed.
* * *
Remember the first fall.
The fall that brought her
to this quiet place,
her body a quickcuring bruise,
first blue then green
then clear, so flawless
veins showed through.
She is a skytear remembering.
She is a cloudcurl
wrapped around herself.
So headheavy she falls again.