National Poetry Month Day 10: Camille T. Dungy

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New Address

My name, Camille, means witness at the sacrifice.
What could I make of this when I was young? What sacrifice?

Coastal breeze and jacaranda trees when I was young.
When we moved, the hope of temperate weather was one sacrifice.

The first midwestern winter seemed so dark. So dark so long.
In that cold, people’s elaborate light displays had to be sacrificed.

It seems a small thing, looking back and dwelling on the weather.
Small compared to history. All our people’s blood and sacrifice.

Boulevards in the new town lined with ghosts of long dead elms.
I’ve also seen helper, attendant, youth who assists with the sacrifice.

The grey seeped into us and we were hard on each other.
Mother and me. It strikes me now to wonder what she’d sacrificed.

Our money went further. The new town was much safer for me.
In French, Camille is a name for a boy who stands by the priest at a sacrifice.

When I was young, I thought of pyres. Slaughtered oxen.
Rams. Cornucopias spilling onto marble altars for the sacrifice.

She had a group of friends she’d met every Saturday.
A house she’d built. A coast that calmed her. What else?

Sweet sounds in the new town: wind through river birch branches.
But not the sound of the sisterly laughter she sacrificed.

I am the age she was then. Spring after spring I grow into myself.
As she’d hoped. She named me Camille: witness to the sacrifice.

***

Photograph of Camille T. Dungy by Beowulf Sheehan.


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 Poets.org. 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 →