Camille Dungy
Conspiracy (to breathe together)

   Last week, a woman smiled at my daughter and I wondered
if she might have been the sort of girl my mother says spat on my aunt
when they were children in Virginia all those acts and laws ago.

Half the time I can’t tell my experiences apart from the ghosts’.

A shirt my mother gave me settles into my chest.

I should say onto my chest, but I am self conscious—
the way the men watch me while I move toward them
makes my heart trip and slide and threaten to bruise
so that, inside my chest, I feel the pressure of her body,
her mother’s breasts, her mother’s mother’s big, loving bounty.

I wear my daughter the way women other places are taught
to wear their young.  Sometimes, when people smile,
I wonder if they think I am being quaintly primitive.

The cloth I wrap her in is brightly patterned, African,
and the baby’s hair manes her alert head in such a way
she has often been compared to an animal.

There is a stroller in the garage, but I don’t want to be taken
as my own child’s nanny. (Half the time I know my fears are mine alone.)

At my shower, a Cameroonian woman helped me practice
putting a toy baby on my back.  I stood in the middle of a circle
of women, stooped over and fumbling with the cloth.  Curious George
was the only doll on hand, so the white women looked away
afraid I would hurt my baby while the black women looked away
and thought about not thinking about monkeys.

There is so much time in the world.  How many ways can it be divided?

I walk every day with my daughter and wonder
what is happening in other people’s minds.  Half the time
I am filled with terror.  Half the time I am full of myself.

The baby is sleeping on my back again. When I stand still, 
I can feel her breathing. But when I start to move, I lose her 
in the rhythms of my tread.

Found In Volume 42, No. 02
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  • camille dungy by ray black
Camille Dungy
About the Author

Camille Dungy is author of Smith Blue, Suck on the Marrow, and What to Eat, What to Drink, What to Leave for Poison. Her honors include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, The Virginia Commission for the Arts, the Dana Award, and the Bread Loaf Writers Conference. Associate Professor of Creative Writing at San Francisco State University, Dungy is co-editor of From the Fishouse: An Anthology of Poems That Sing, Rhyme, Resound, Syncopate, Alliterate, and Just Plain Sound Great (Persea, 2009).