Rumpus Original Poetry: “When I die, I hope they talk about me”





When I die, I hope they talk about me


like they talk about the recently dead

president who oversaw the bombing

of countless children. Headlines today recall

his beloved three-year-old girl,

who he apparently hopes to meet

when he gets to heaven. I hope

there is a heaven copious enough

to hold a place for every soul, even

the soul of a man who sired a man

some of us thought was the very worst

man. We all make mistakes.

There is, we learned, as we all must learn,

always an even worse man willing to take

the job. I didn’t even know that guy

had a daughter. When he was breathing

all I ever heard was son, son, son. But now

his little girl is headline news, and I have to dig deep

below the fold to find stories about how

he turned his back on boys who were quilting

America’s cities in gay enclaves. Many Black women

died of the same neglect and, Good Lord, I remember

the news used to talk about babies, blood

saturated in suffering. Not today, though.

Today, the papers can’t even speak of his war

without casting that failure, also, as a bid for peace.

So, please, when I die, forget all the fires

I set. Forget the many ways I have maimed you,

ignored you, laughed in your face. Say what

I was after, after all, was, perhaps, a peace

that surpasses understanding. Say I loved

one girl desperately. Her ghost haunted me

my whole life. I heard that dead girl—

my child—crying, endlessly, all over

the world. Remember that.


Photograph of Camille T. Dungy © Rachel Eliza Griffiths.

Camille T. Dungy is the author of 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, and four collections of poetry, most recently Trophic Cascade (Wesleyan UP, 2017). She edited Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry (UGA, 2009), co-edited the From the Fishouse poetry anthology (Persea, 2009), and served as assistant editor on Gathering Ground: Celebrating Cave Canem's First Decade (University of Michigan Press, 2006). She is the poetry editor for Orion magazine. Dungy's work has appeared in Best American Poetry, 100 Best African American Poems, Best American Essays, Best American Travel Essays, the Pushcart Anthology and more than 30 other anthologies, plus dozens of print and online venues including Poetry, American Poetry Review, VQR, Literary Hub, Paris Review, and Her honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship, an American Book Award, a Colorado Book Award, two Northern California Book Awards, two NAACP Image Award Nominations, and fellowships from the NEA in both poetry and prose. She lives in Colorado with her husband and daughter (and down the street from her parents, who followed her this time around). Dungy is a University Distinguished Professor at Colorado State University. More from this author →