Because it looked hotter that way

- 1972-
we let our hair down.  It wasn't so much that we 
worried about what people thought or about keeping it real 
but that we knew this was our moment. We knew we'd blow our cool
 
sooner or later.  Probably sooner.  Probably even before we 
got too far out of Westmont High and had kids of our own who left
home wearing clothes we didn't think belonged in school.

Like Mrs. C. whose nearly unrecognizably pretty senior photo we  
passed every day on the way to Gym, we'd get old.   Or like Mr. Lurk 
who told us all the time how it's never too late

to throw a Hail Mary like he did his junior year and how we
could win everything for the team and hear the band strike 
up a tune so the cheer squad could sing our name, too. Straight

out of a Hallmark movie, Mr. Lurk's hero turned teacher story.  We
had heard it a million times. Sometimes he'd ask us to sing
with him, T-O-N-Y-L-U-R-K Tony Tony Lurk Lurk Lurk. Sin

ironia, con sentimiento, por favor, and then we
would get back to our Spanish lessons, opening our thin
textbooks, until the bell rang and we went on to the cotton gin

in History. Really, this had nothing to do with being cool. We
only wanted to have a moment to ourselves, a moment before Jazz
Band and after Gym when we could look in the mirror and like it. June

and Tiffany and Janet all told me I looked pretty. We
took turns saying nice things, though we might just as likely say, Die
and go to hell.  Beauty or hell. No difference. The bell would ring soon.





With thanks to "We Real Cool" by Gwendolyn Brooks

More by Camille T. Dungy

There are these moments of permission

	Between raindrops, 


			space, certainly,


but we call it all rain.


          I hang in the undrenched intervals,


while Callie is sleeping,


	my old self necessary


and imperceptible as air.

Frequently Asked Questions: #9

Don’t you think you should have another child?

This girl I have is hardtack and dried lime
           and reminds me, every groggy morning,
what a miracle it must have been
           when outfitters learned to stock ship holds
with that one long lasting fruit. How the sailors’ tongues,
           landing on its bitter brilliance, must have cursed
the curse of joy, as I did that morning the burst
           of water brought my sweet girl into our lives.

But, already, she hates me sometimes.
           Like I have sometimes hated my mother and she
must have sometimes hated her own.

After weeks at sea, the limes would desiccate and the meal
           fill with worms. They would have eaten
anyway, the sailors, but taken no pleasure from anything.
           Or taken no pleasure from anything but
the fact of their sustained lives. Which is to say it is all
           I can do, most days, not to swallow
her up and curse her maker, I swear. Like I have not
           sworn since the morning she was born.

Arthritis is one thing, the hurting another

for Adrienne Rich in 2006

 

The poet's hands degenerate until her cup is too heavy.

You are not required to understand.
This is not the year for understanding.

This is the year of burning women in schoolyards
and raided homes, of tarped bodies on runways and in restaurants.

The architecture of the poet's hands has turned upon itself.

This is not the year for palliatives. It is not the year for knowing what to do.

This is the year the planet grew smaller
and no country would consent to its defeat.

The poet's cup is filled too full, a weight she cannot carry
from the table to her mouth, her lips, her tongue.
The poet's hands are congenitally spoiled.

This is not one thing standing for another.

Listen, this year three ancient cities met their ruin, maybe more,
and many profited, but this is not news for the readers here.

Should I speak indirectly?
I am not the poet. Those are not my hands.

This is the year of deportations and mothers bereaved
of all of their sons. The year of third and fourth tours,
of cutting-edge weaponry and old-fashioned guns.

Last year was no better, and this year only lays the groundwork
for the years that are to come. Listen, this is a year like no other.

This is the year the doctors struck for want of aid
and schoolchildren were sent home in the morning

and lights and gas were unreliable
and, harvesters suspect, fruit had no recourse but rot.

Many are dying for want of a cure, and the poet is patient
and her hands cause the least of her pain.