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poetry Frequently Asked Questions: #7

The award-winning poet Camille T. Dungy captures a specific, amazing moment when a stranger suddenly realizes the price of racism.

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Frequently Asked Questions: #7

By Camille T. Dungy

Is it difficult to get away from it all once you've had a child?

I am swaying in the galley—working

          to appease this infant who is not

fussing but will be fussing if I don't move—

          when a black steward enters the cramped space

          at the back of the plane. He stands by the food carts

prepping his service. Then he is holding his throat

the way we hold our throats when we think we are going to die.

I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. He is crying. My God. What they did to us. 

I am swaying lest my brown baby girl make a nuisance

          of herself, and the steward is crying honest man tears.

          Seeing you holding your daughter like that—for the first time,

I understand what they did to us. All those women sold away

          from their babies, he whispers. I am at a loss now.

 Perhaps I could fabricate an image to represent this

          agony, but the steward has walked into the galley

          of history. There is nothing figurative about us.

Camille T. Dungy is the author the essay collection Guidebook to Relative Strangers: Journeys into Race, Motherhood and History, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and four collections of poetry, most recently Trophic Cascade (Wesleyan University Press, 2017) in which this poem appears, available in paperback in August. https://www.upne.com/0819577191.html

She has also edited anthologies including Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry. Her honors include NEA Fellowships in both poetry and prose, an American Book Award, two Northern California Book Awards, and two NAACP Image Award nominations. She is a professor at Colorado State University.