Camille T. Dungy

seeing what awaited her, she took the ghost path home

You arrived a day before the landing, breathing water

more than air.  It was the day the shackling men called sabbath,

and we’d been brought up into the sun and made to twist our mouths

around words they taught us by the rhythm of the whip. 


When I went down on my knees they laughed.

The man with the shadow of sickness always on his face

kicked me in time with a push I could not stay and your head fell,

like green month fruit, into the arbor of my legs.


One man said he’d had his hand inside plenty of sows. 

The others stepped away, said they knew only sails

and the sea, forgetting they had taught themselves to give life

over to misery.  I called for my sister, but the farm hand knelt,


almost tasting my milk, while his fingers cracked around your skull 

and he spilled you on the bile crusted boards not half alive. 

You had too few months’ rest between the heavens and this place.

You had only watched me work answering soil for three births


of the moon.  Then the walking and the wailing.  Then the dark place

that prepared you to be born into a grave. Then the lying

over water.  The plenty water and still no way

to wash a body.  All that moving and still no place to go. 


The next thing coming would be like years on years

of white hands cracking on your skull.  Better not to be born

on soil that can only converse with your blood.  Better to come early,

not breathing cloud white air.  Better what you did, daughter.


I have seen them throw back fish large enough to feed six

of us below.  They are hungry for something flesh can never feed.

Better you understood that early.  I am coming your way. 

I am right behind you, daughter, breathing water more than air.



“seeing what awaited her, she took the ghost path home” was first published in Crab Orchard Review.