Camille T. Dungy is the author of four collections of poetry, most recently Trophic Cascade (Wesleyan University Press, 2017), winner of the Colorado Book Award, and the essay collection Guidebook to Relative Strangers: Journeys into Race, Motherhood and History (W.W. Norton, 2017), a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. She has edited anthologies including Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry. Her honors include NEA Fellowships in poetry (2003) and prose (2018), an American Book Award, two Northern California Book Awards, two NAACP Image Award nominations, and two Hurston/Wright Legacy Award nominations. Her poems have been published in Best American Poetry, The 100 Best African American Poems, and over thirty other anthologies. She is a professor at Colorado State University.
Arthritis is one thing, the hurting another
By Camille T. DungyAdded: Monday, July 7, 2014 / From "Smith Blue" (Southern Illinois University Press, 2011). Used with permission.
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.