From the First, the Body Was Dirt

By Camille T. Dungy Read the Q & A

For T.S.

Whose hands touched, first, the head
of the penis, the shaft?

And was it soft
                          or shale?  More rock
than clay.

And who pinched first
into their place the small cups
at the base of the ass?

                                        Who was it
got down there, on whose knees,
and blew—
                         and was that passion
or panic, the machine that drove
those exhalations?
                                        —and how
could we rate the power of that
breath—breeze or gale or a whisper
like the song the little boy sings
to the beetle,
                         whose small legs moved in tune
like his legs, the legs on that first body, must have
moved, if they did move, when
                                                       the dust settled.

In my mind everything’s become enormous.

But was it ever small like that, the first body?

Did it ever sit close to the ants and their piles
of dirt from which that body had come?
You were a small boy once, I suppose.

You were dirty from the start.  

You showed me how to use a cock ring,
and why.
                         How, without ever paying
for a room, to spend two weeks in any city.
How two men could fuck
and continue to face each other
             —took my body and showed me,
my back on a table, my knees by my head.  
Stretched me
                         into seeing you were more than a dog.

You must be dead by now, though I don’t know
whose hands prepared you.

                                                      Whose fingers
fingered, for the final time,
all that dark and kinky hair?

If the first body was made of dirt,
in order to plumb the hollow
of that first throat, whose thumb
first lodged inside the hinge
of that first mouth to force it open?

To make the tongue, so it could work,
who shoved inside that mouth
the shit of a hundred thousand worms?

Source: Poetry (December 2011).


This poem originally appeared in the December 2011 issue of Poetry magazine

December 2011
 Camille T. Dungy


Poet and editor Camille T. Dungy was born in Denver but moved often as her father, an academic physician, taught at many different medical schools across the country. She earned a BA from Stanford University and an MFA from the University of North Carolina, Greensboro.
Dungy’s full-length poetry publications include Smith Blue (2011), a finalist for the William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America; Suck on . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Death, Love, Desire, Relationships, Social Commentaries, Gender & Sexuality


Poetic Terms Elegy, Free Verse

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