Camille T. Dungy

Dinah in the Box

Dinah spent twenty hours with her face by the breathing hole, her body curled


like a nursing child’s, wondering what order of thanks she would offer the man


who opened her crate.  She had a particular trick that worked on Jennings


when she needed him to understand she meant to please, but Dinah wouldn’t


be a bachelor’s wench in Philadelphia. What angle would her legs take,


that first night in Philadelphia, in relation to the woman spot between them?


Not this infant’s pose she was confined to now.  Not any of the poses favored by Jennings. 


What would her hands do, free to touch only what they chose?  She had twenty hours


to remember every way she’d folded to get into this box.   She’d tipped out extra brandy


until Jennings railed against the things he hated: taxes, drought, and abolitionists. 


Turned out old Harrison, the carpenter, was suspected to be one.  She tracked Harrison


and asked what price and means he’d name.  Those two tasks proved more simple


than storing up the coins that slipped from Jennings’ pocket to the rug beside the bed. 


It took Dinah seven months to collect enough to buy the box and pay Harrison


for the bill of lading. Dinah touched her knees, tracing the hinge inside them


that would straighten in some white man’s parlor. She wasn’t free yet, but soon


a man she would make herself trust would prize open the lid of her crate.




“Dinah in the Box” first appeared in Mid-American Review, Fall/Winter 2004.