Frequently Asked Questions: #9

Camille T. Dungy - 1972-

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.
 

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.

Characteristics of Life

A fifth of animals without backbones could be at risk of extinction, say scientists.
—BBC Nature News

Ask me if I speak for the snail and I will tell you
I speak for the snail.
                          speak of underneathedness
and the welcome of mosses,
                                        of life that springs up,
little lives that pull back and wait for a moment.

I speak for the damselfly, water skeet, mollusk,
the caterpillar, the beetle, the spider, the ant.
                                                        I speak
from the time before spinelessness was frowned upon.

Ask me if I speak for the moon jelly. I will tell you
                        one thing today and another tomorrow
        and I will be as consistent as anything alive
on this earth.

                        I move as the currents move, with the breezes.
What part of your nature drives you? You, in your cubicle
ought to understand me. I filter and filter and filter all day.

Ask me if I speak for the nautilus and I will be silent
as the nautilus shell on a shelf. I can be beautiful
and useless if that's all you know to ask of me.

Ask me what I know of longing and I will speak of distances
        between meadows of night-blooming flowers.
                                                        I will speak
                        the impossible hope of the firefly.

                                                You with the candle
burning and only one chair at your table must understand
        such wordless desire.

                                To say it is mindless is missing the point.

Because it looked hotter that way

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