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Thursday, December 8, 2011

In my mind everything’s become enormous. But was it ever small like that, the first body?

Camille T. Dungy

Camille T. DungyRay Black, University of Georgia
Poet and editor Camille T. Dungy was born in Denver but moved often as her father, an academic physician, taught at many different medical schools across the country. She received a BA from Stanford University and an MFA from the University of North Carolina, Greensboro.
Dungy's full-length poetry publications include Suck on the Marrow (2010) and the sonnet collectionWhat to Eat, What to Drink, What to Leave for Poison (2006), which was a finalist for both the PEN Center USA Literary Award and the Library of Virginia Literary Award. Describing the poems inWhat to Eat, What to Drink, What to Leave for Poison as "rogue sonnets," Dungy said of the poems' speakers in a 2007 Boxcar Review interview with poet Sean Hill, "These are folks who take the restrictions and traditions that have been handed to them and they do what they can to make beautiful things with their lives […] so the fact that the sonnets follow some rules and flaunt others is a direct reflection of their subjects." In a 2009 review of the same collection for Pembroke Magazine, Tara Betts observed that the collection "offers a number of ways to look at what is considered to be a part of nature, whether it is a part of the plants or the people that inhabit a place." As Betts later noted, "This tension of living close to passion and death simultaneously creates urgency in these quiet poems."
Addressing the paucity of African American poets in anthologies of nature poetry, Dungy stated in a 2010 interview for the Oakland Tribune, "I miss seeing writers of color in the conversation. Until we have greater variety in the conversation, it is not a conversation—it is a monologue." To that end, Dungy edited Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry (2009), which was nominated for an NAACP Image Award. She was also co-editor of From the Fishouse: An Anthology of Poems that Sing, Rhyme, Resound, Syncopate, Alliterate, and Just Plain Sound Great (2009), and assistant editor for Gathering Ground: A Reader Celebrating Cave Canem's First Decade (2006). 
Winner of the Dana Award, Dungy has also received fellowships and awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, the American Antiquarian Society, the Virginia Commission for the Arts, Cave Canem, and the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference.
Dungy lives in Oakland, California, and has taught at San Francisco State University and the University of North Carolina.

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Report a problem with this biographyFrom the First, the Body Was Dirt


For T.S.

Whose hands touched, first, the head
of the penis, the shaft?

And was it soft
                          or shale?  More rock
than clay.

And who pinched first
into their place the small cups
at the base of the ass?

                                        Who was it
got down there, on whose knees,
and blew—
                         and was that passion
or panic, the machine that drove
those exhalations?
                                        —and how
could we rate the power of that
breath—breeze or gale or a whisper
like the song the little boy sings
to the beetle,
                         whose small legs moved in tune
like his legs, the legs on that first body, must have
moved, if they did move, when
                                                       the dust settled.

In my mind everything's become enormous.

But was it ever small like that, the first body?

Did it ever sit close to the ants and their piles
of dirt from which that body had come?
You were a small boy once, I suppose.

You were dirty from the start.  

You showed me how to use a cock ring,
and why.
                         How, without ever paying
for a room, to spend two weeks in any city.
How two men could fuck
and continue to face each other
             —took my body and showed me,
my back on a table, my knees by my head.  
Stretched me
                         into seeing you were more than a dog.

You must be dead by now, though I don't know
whose hands prepared you.

                                                      Whose fingers
fingered, for the final time,
all that dark and kinky hair?

If the first body was made of dirt,
in order to plumb the hollow
of that first throat, whose thumb
first lodged inside the hinge
of that first mouth to force it open?

To make the tongue, so it could work,
who shoved inside that mouth
the shit of a hundred thousand worms?

Source: Poetry (December 2011).


This poem originally appeared in the December 2011 issue of Poetrymagazine

December 2011

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