Lunch Poems – Camille T. Dungy



so good afternoon well I didn't hear that good afternoon thank you I'm Giovanni singleton coordinator for the lunch home series and it's my great pleasure to welcome you here today I invite you all to sign up on our mailing list if you didn't get an email about the today's reading we do have a list over by the librarians desk and we send out notices prior to each month's reading I also want to let you know that on our website lunch poems berkeley.edu you can view this and all of our previous readings as series is in its 15th year so there's a plenty of poetic goal there I'm courage you all to go and check it out we are also on Facebook so please log on and become our friend we would love to have you and this is the first reading of the spring semester next month we will also have will feature San Francisco poet trung tran on march through also coming april april seventh will be Jeffrey geo Brian who's on faculty here in the English department and we will end our spring semester with a student reading on May 5th featuring poets a student poetry prizes Prize winners so now i will give you Robert has who is the director of the lunch poem series and he will introduce this afternoon's reader thank next jovani thank you all for coming but I didn't get into a fight or run into a door and this is not an homage to Jack Nicholson's role in Chinatown this is skin repair that I'm going to wear for a while I'm told to remind the young among you to wear sunscreen it's really a pleasure to have an excitement for me to have Camille dungey reed for us today her first book of poems which was published in 2006 is called how to eat how to drink and what to what to eat what to drink and what to leave for poison which will um suggest to you that she's a tough-minded besides being witty person who understands malice and also you know things that need poisoning in the last year and a half she published two remarkable books an anthology of african-american nature poetry called Black nature which is over there which has a long rich introduction that will give you a sense of the Milton word would be capacious nison of her of her intelligence and it's an enormously generous book book that's on my mind is the book of poems called suck on the marrow it's a kind of novel in verse about slavery in the 1850s just before the Civil War and I there I can't adequately characterize it it's a book you need to buy and to read my experience was the first time I read it I read it one night could read it in a night and then went back and read it another night because it's has it's full of subtle interconnections among the characters that you only get glimpses of and it falls together and more the second time I repeated the same experience last night and the night before it's it's it's just an extraordinary book one of the main characters is a freed man born free philadelphian who in the years when the slave ships were slave trade was ending we're starting to get stolen off the streets of the north for the rapacious hunger for cotton sugar rice tobacco plantations in the South especially cotton this man Joseph Freeman is was snatched into a farm in the middle of Virginia and many of the poems are that flirt with the sonnet form our imaginary letters that he would write back to his wife Melissa in Philadelphia next set of characters I said you have to read it yourself next out of character is a woman named Molly who is it an interesting character because she she it it's that's about among other things about intellectual curiosity that is one of the things that all the beatings allow her is to get an interest in anatomy which he's trying to understand and tell other people about and her first relationship with a new slave on that same farm which allows gets to two of the kind of verbal inventions in the book one is one is one when Molly thinks a certain kind of thought she's called them to herself in one word hope thoughts Molly had the hope thought that this or that would happen I thought what a cool word and the other is I don't need I don't know how pronounce it areola areola Molly when she does find her man thinks of art as described his areola the dark coils of her breasts to him what a gorgeous word mostly it's this is a hard book not full of beautiful lyrical language and it it it almost does for American slavery something like that phrase that is I saw over and over again in the streets of Berlin nicht vergessen do not forget and this this this book of poems just takes you there and most powerful and resonant way anyway please welcome the Camille Dungey before her heart a mechanical aperture closed her heart a mechanical aperture opened she told her stomach honey be still she told her teeth and her cheeks and her tongue all the squabbling was quail close at hand her heart a perennial shrub persisted she'd been waiting she'd been waiting she'd looked forward to this she told her wrists and her waist and her ankles all that wrestling was quail in the rushes to the skin on her left arm keep watch to her lungs prepare all your rooms her heart deciduous bloomed she'd breakfasted on rye toast spread with the hope sauce of bees and of thistle she'd been waiting she'd been waiting in her rucksack she tended the first crush of Olives and nearly transparent delicious meats so rare should she share her heart that tide pool would flood she'd been waiting she'd been waiting she told the pit of her navel and the peaks of her nipples that cooing was quail coming near the call was a response she'd expected all the days she'd looked forward to this though her heart Brooke bed was damned she kept two small thieves in their sockets alert she commandeered all the rafts in her spine she told her heart take everything when he hand did his hand to her hand and the bevy beautiful in the bushes flu good afternoon Thanks thanks everyone for joining me today during your lunch hour and thank you Bob for that very generous and thoughtful introduction it's always nice when you put your books out into the world to know that people understand what it is you're trying to do and then I wanted to also thank to Yvonne e singleton and all the other people who make this really great series possible today and into posterity with the very prescient recording that has always happened with lunch poems I'm feeling thankful today it's a glorious glorious day the rest of the country is getting sacked by a blizzard and our orange trees are full of fruit I thought I would read a couple poems from my first book what to eat what to drink what to leave for poison this first book that poem I'm going to read is also collected in black nature my anthology the subtitle of which is for centuries of African American nature poetry that collects some hundred and eighty poems by about a hundred poets writing about the natural world from the beginning with Phyllis Wheatley on through very new writers today and it was triggered partly from my complicated interest with the natural world which came in part from having grown up in California language silence is one part of speech the war-cry of wind down a mountain pass another a stranger's voice echoing through lonely valleys a lover's voice rising so close it's your own tongue these are keys to HYFR the way the high Hawks key unlocks the throat of the sky and the Coyotes yip knocks it shut the way the Aspen's bells conform to the breeze while the rapids drums define resistance sage speaks with one voice pinion with another rock wind her hand water her brush spells and then scatters her demands some notes tear and pebble our paths some notes gather the bank we met our lives around this next poem i'm going to read i wrote while I was not in California I live for many years on the east coast and I missed so much about this place I wrote this poem and in the included in the manuscript for what to eat what to drink what to leave for poison and in the same month that the book was published i finalized my position at San Francisco State University and so I believe that sometimes poetry can be prophecy a long time gone long time yet to come where jasmine lemonsweets wind and salt Slick's the breeze where sage spices sundridge there where the fragrant cloud nest drives the pump beat of my blood I am home long time gone long time gone and don't know when I'm coming back but see me there where the orange tree blossoms and the sky smells white as line dried sheets see me there where Jasmine lemonsweets wind and salt slicks the hair you wear into the brees where cactus fruit is suckling pair and it's sweet hidden waters everywhere I am home and gone but i'll be back long time gone but i'll be coming back thank you so poetry can be prophecy but it can also be a medium to counter the past the preachers eat out there were maybe four of them perhaps five they were headed where it does not matter only they were not home yet we're not near anyone who could have cared so hungry they stopped there anyway and when they heard we don't serve your kind one among them laughed that's okay we're not hungry for our kind we've come for food and when the one waitress who would serve them she had children at home and these were tips finished breaking their plates behind the building he called her over to the table lady my one regret is that we don't have appetite enough to make you break every damned plate inside this room so what to eat what to drink what to leave for poison investigates 20th century figures in their work to make their lives as liveable as they possibly can my second book suck on the marrow focuses on the 20th century I have this kind of joke that i had this series of survival guides by the centuries so the first book is the 20th century and then second omeros my 19th century survival guide among other things suck on the marrow is looking at this question of what it might mean to lose self-control you are not the one Melinda sings her under breath song to please you Joseph Freeman who wants would sing words the sermon could not say the whole church waiting sundays for the freeman song and especially waiting for the base cry such remembrance in your young body that was Joseph Freeman singing in meeting you Joseph are not the one who will sit in the men's pew singing as you sang Sundays surrounded by your brother your father your uncle Melinda our oldest friends the whole church maybe even the good Lord listening no Joseph you are not the one who's back heat and resting wait that pues wood will curb and cup itself to welcome you are no more the one that pues arch would recognize today then you are the man who will here tonight what new song Melinda in the rocking chair no more you're rocking chair then her rooms are anymore your rooms will catch under her breath and sing when you were Joseph when you had two rooms you could give your wife your hands and ears and mouth inside you listened you let your wife keep you awake trilling over what she'd cleans that afternoon a cameo her lips a closed purse when she pronounced the M opened for you on the e wider on the o strong on velvet you wrapped a band around her neck kisses ending where the Cameo would fall at the hollow that perfect frame when you had two rooms and no one but your wife inside them you could listen all night to the things she desired silk stockings for instance what you asked was wrong with the stockings she wore these wool ones you touch the leg she lifted toward you I would be just as happy not to wear them a minute more and didn't you listen to her didn't you lend your hand and help Melinda peel those old stockings away now you are a mouth tasting dust and salt and finger flesh you are all your remaining keith arranged to satisfaction gums just pink enough to please you are a saleable mouth and your tongue does nothing it does not curl into a consonant it does not shape the vowels that would add up to a plea because you are not Joseph Freeman night guard amelinda the ones who wait on your voice are not the ones who's listening would make a morning right before you were nothing but an auctioned mouth and a pair of hands that only mind commands they made you little more than a brine sealed back and crossed hatched thighs your tongue twisted and quick tempos as you learned each new instruments name cat-o'-nine-tails pudding stick ordinary or you'd rather keep silent than call up more cognates you Joseph Freeman who once would sing words so this book as Bob mentioned is traces the lives of several characters six main characters who you follow in various states of enslavement and freedom and so you've now been introduced to two of them Joseph and Melinda Freeman and I will give you a little snippet of the story of two more taming shad two things he didn't understand even after she let him pull her up into the wide hug of the Sycamore branches and after she took to tying her hair and red ribbons he used Sunday wages to buy for her what had Molly's little nod bent that first day her body a blue bag gripped in one hand ran across his shadow laundry day so she was busy but something made her take time to answer a question he hadn't realized he'd already asked that was one thing he couldn't understand what made her nod yes to a dusty bruise of a man just walked up to the Jackson place after how long trotting behind his newest master and his master's paint the other thing was why after all those nights studying the creases in his thumbs the lobes of his ears the direction sweat took running off his belly she stayed away from him until the morning glories that had opened in his eyes closed again did she have to remind him wasn't nothing to be seen that he could look after and something like a response almost like they wanted it because she'd heard him laugh through New Moon darkness and she knew he'd fallen and she knew before she turned he'd be crawling like a crawdad Rock too low because she tried to love the straight back and neck he directed to recollect the man he'd been before because she found herself adding up his usefulness like some kind of auctioneer she showed him the dark coils areola both her breasts and all the ways she bent and lifted bent and lifted steady strong she let him believe he was past due for a harvest and her hands were the right ones now to hold the scythe she made quick work of pleasure the boys smile bunked down in his eyes she claimed her tongue found the place in his mouth where the teeth were gone where he'd hold his corn cakes until they grew soft enough to chew history had bedded him in all of this his own history and failures not his own before he tramped in she'd watched another man a man she thought she hated watched his body opened opened opened until blood had married brine she'd watched that man be whipped into something good for nothing more than fertilizing clay and she thought buckshot would have been a brand of kindness if sprayed into him just then but even after his hard going she did not miss him very much anyone she chose could be shocked like surplus property tomorrow but that hadn't been enough to warn her off of picking him that night because she knew if she set her sight on nothing she'd get nothing in return she'd walked with shad but because the night progressed so because there were some clouds no stars no moon he tripped over the brant of a dead and down tree in all that darkness there without a moon even then she had not fallen she thought to say so but she did not say so she did nothing but say she was sorry for him she did not use her mouth to say this could he not listen to her hands they spoke softly articulating her condolences to his torn and bleeding skin sunday morning desire swung like that like her legs in procession like perfume from a sensor on its linked chain heavy as smoke in the holds light desire a church a Cathedral the body in that robe the robe sash swinging the progress of the sinning body to this sacred spot a man kneeling a man with head bent a man lifting his prayer to a woman desire desire desire grant us grace so I opened today's reading with a poem for my forthcoming collection called Smith blue which is due out in june of this year and I thought I would close with a few poems from this collection as well this next poem i'm going to read i picked specifically because the two main figures in it were berkeley students the blue one will live to see the caterpillar rut everything they walk on sea cliff buckwheat cleared relentless ice plant to replace it the wild fields bisected by the scenic highway canyons covered with cul de sacs gas stations comfortable homes the whole habitat along this coastal stretch endangered everything everyone everywhere in it in danger as well but now they're logging the one stilling Hawk Smith cites the conspiring grasses shh shh shh the coreopsis mattone ease boot barely spares and netted a solitary blue butterfly Smith ahead of him chasing the stream mitoni wonders if he plans to swim again just like that the spell breaks it's years later mattoni lecturing on his struggling butterfly how fragile if his daughter spooled out the fabric she chosen for her wedding gown raw taffeta burled a bright hued tan perhaps mattoni would remember how those dunes looked from a distance the fabric balanced between her arms making valleys in the valley the fan above her mimicking the breeze he and his friend loved everything softly undulating under the Kois wind and the rough truth as they walked through the land scratch and Scrabble and no one was there then besides mitoni and his friend walking along Dolan's creek in that part of california they hated to share the ocean a mile or so off anything but passive so that even there in the canyon they sometimes heard its Mac and pull well braced rocks the breeze basic salty bitter sour sweet Smith trying to identify the scent Terran leeza manzanita yelling this is it here this is it his hand to his nose his eyes having finally seen the source of his pleasure alive in the lab after the accident he remembered it the butterfly how good a swimmer Smith had been how rough the currents there at half moon bay his friend alone with reel and rod mattoni back at school early that year his summer finished too soon then all of them together in the sneaker wave and before that the ridge congregations of pinking blossoms and one of them bowing scaring up the living the frail and flighty beast too beautiful to never be pinned those nights mattoni worked without his friend he remembered too he called his butterfly Smith's blue out of the darkness in the beginning was the darkness and the darkness drew together and the darkness warmed the darkness and it was not alone but some of the darkness began to pull away the great crowd of darkness was disturbed this is how darkness turned against darkness some of the darkness lost hair in the fight this hair fell to the historian's spiders each relays the filaments just as she discovers them some of the darkness lost legs in a fight these ran on and still dash through dreams where the blood of the darkness met the sweat of more darkness in that place a tree in the trees some quaking possum below it a hound where the tears of the darkness fell high grass grew through which run rivulets of an antlered heard whenever darkness struck darkness one fewer in the herd a new cat sprung from the grasses the darkness went down and the darkness Rosa more darkness fell while some rose still the movement of the darkness as it fought against darkness was like the movement of oceans soon some of the darkness was ocean the remaining darkness was sky what darkness had fallen might rise what darkness had risen might lose wind and fall this could go on forever the rising of darkness it's falling some of the darkness lost teeth in the fight these became teeth of the ancient vigilant shark some of the darkness lost nails in the fight these became thorns in the bramble some of the darkness lost sight in the fight some of the darkness lost reason some of the darkness got away from the darkness that darkness alone drew a star you guys are great I want to take you everywhere I had a daughter this June and that yeah that's one big book so while I was pregnant I decided to write a creation story and that's what she just got was my pregnancy creation story because having a kid is really like just watching one creation story after another right you know what was the world like before teeth what was the world like before you could get your own hand to your own mouth so every day I say things like you're never gonna be this small again or you know that you've been working on that your whole life that's pretty it's pretty great so I'm going to read one final poem for you today it was written before the advent of cali violet but it does seem that this question of creation of making of making a life has been one of my primary concerns I've been working on that my whole life and so even as I try to get away from it sometimes I end up writing more and so then Smith blue ends up being the third in the series of survival books as being the 21st century survival text right always I seem to be wondering how we can make lives for ourselves what are the best ways given the circumstances in which we live in the histories out of which we come personal histories and long histories to make good lies for ourselves while not hurting others in the process that's a state I'll never go back to once I got over the problem of not knowing how I couldn't go back to not curbing my tires but it took a while to get past forgetting to register street cleaning hours and love love was my handicap though I had no permit to hang from my rearview so I collected seven or ten little slips I had every intention of paying off except I skipped town for the summer and returned to find the guy staying in my apartment tossed them I'll admit I was relieved not to face these expensive reminders of the girl I'd been how stupid I was about life in the city and as I finished school was moving south for good this time and as I lived then in a state of great anticipation the potential of a record never crossed I mind but now an account of those parking tickets I can't go back there with a car though everyone who loves me knows I love that tiny window each October in the South nub of the state you can't reach without driving i missed it once and waited a whole year regretting the lost chance to track the linden leaves tiny migrations the next fall refusing to endure that state of desolation again I ask everyone who loves me too please meet me just south of the border we ordered green mussels we ordered popcorn shrimp the shrimp beat the muscles to the table I was the only one who hadn't filled up on a grande egg cream I drink for pleasure but since i left that state i haven't found any delicious enough to entice so i ate all the muscles crouched later in that state of betrayal that comes from learning some green things aren't good considering the law of inertia that any body in motion stays in motion and less faced with an equal or opposite force peer pressure scatology the projected near immediate devastation of World forest should certain highly populated nations generally adopt the u.s. model of toilet paper consumption germ theory my own role in depressing the mean average of common human hygiene I knew I never wanted to be anywhere near that state again with extradition with reciprocity I was hardly away at all when I first rolled over my parents were pleased and just as quickly I left the state of never having rolled before ditto slumping on all fours to crawling and once I could walk we all knew I was never going back I pulled myself up and started moving I grabbed an everything I could reach until I learned better I put my tongue on anything once I ate papaya straight from the tree and then I mourned the object state of the crated fruit I in my ignorance thought I loved i denounce such love I married a local I taught myself how to keep his garden I swear I'm staying away from that state for good thank you so much ok

1 thought on “Lunch Poems – Camille T. Dungy

  1. ├╝ber driver & scratch-poet @rashaunps wuz here: mfa candidate 2019 @usfmfaw (silicon valley) 1 8 0 2 0 5

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