“They Win the Upper Hand” by Camille T. Dungy

Camille T. Dungy


There exists, between the woman and the pads of her busy thumbs,
a long running feud
caused by her thumbs’ need to turn over her engine.

The woman wants to settle. Get out of the car
she tells herself, her thumbs included.

Her thumbs are incredulous. They are rearing to go.

Still, the pads of her busy thumbs are pressed into packing
soil around the roots
of newly potted plants.

They are there for the setting of tables: salmon, salad, speculation
about the congressional campaign. Who has true power,
the thumbs want to ask, who does not command a machine?

Imagine their relief, her thumbs’, hearing, so near the beds of their trim nails,
the jingle of keys,
and the closing of doors and, from somewhere close
to the woman’s heart,
the unlocked SAAB that proves this wasn’t what she wanted after all.

The pads of her busy thumbs travel over all her fingers as they steer.

It is the toll road’s brief intimacies they love.

The tunnel’s concealed course.

The bridge they will cross over one evening
and never cross over again.

from Rattle #31, Summer 2009
Tribute to African American Poets


Camille T. Dungy: “I grew up hearing poetry: James Weldon Johnson’s ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing,’ Langston Hughes’ ‘Hold Fast to Dreams,’ Shakespeare’s ‘Sonnet 29’—all of these and more I memorized in elementary school. My play cousins’ father is a Robinson Jeffers scholar. Poetry has always seemed a common, as in familiar, mode of speech.” (website)

Rattle Logo