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From the Unwritten Letters of Joseph Freeman

Camille T. Dungy
Camille T. Dungy

(March, 1841)

  • What a herd of slaves Jackson brought in last month.
  • No sooner had their strength returned
  • after the long march to the farm from Lynchburg
  • but they began to plot another run.
  • We didn’t know they’d planned to leave
  • until they were already gone a day.
  • All manner of neighborhood men
  • came around to tip Jackson’s whiskey
  • and help him on the hunt, though
  • all they brought back for their trouble
  • were two bodies. One dead,
  • one fighting off living. That boy
  • I told you about, Ben with the slashed cheek?
  • At the stony fork of the river
  • Doc Jackson found his body, cut up,
  • twisted as if it had fought long
  • under water, a dead hand pointing
  • in the direction his netted sister and the “damned
  • lost lot of niggers” had run. I guess
  • he was too obstinate even for the water
  • to hold down easily. Jackson used Ben
  • like a scarecrow, his shirt hooked on a pole,
  • his body meant to warn us from the road.
  • Lila’s still not certain that the girl will live.
  • Until tomorrow, I am ever your Joe.


Camille T. Dungy is the author of the poetry collections Smith Blue; Suck on the Marrow; and What to Eat, What to Drink, What to Leave for Poison. She edited Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry, and co-edited the From the Fishouse poetry anthology. Her honors include an American Book Award, two Northern California Book Awards, a California Book Award silver medal, and a fellowship from the NEA. Dungy is a professor in the creative-writing department at San Francisco State University.

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Camille T. Dungy
Camille T. Dungy

(March, 1841)

  • What a herd of slaves Jackson brought in last month.
  • No sooner had their strength returned
  • after the long march to the farm from Lynchburg
  • but they began to plot another run.
  • We didn’t know they’d planned to leave
  • until they were already gone a day.
  • All manner of neighborhood men
  • came around to tip Jackson’s whiskey
  • and help him on the hunt, though
  • all they brought back for their trouble
  • were two bodies. One dead,
  • one fighting off living. That boy
  • I told you about, Ben with the slashed cheek?
  • At the stony fork of the river
  • Doc Jackson found his body, cut up,
  • twisted as if it had fought long
  • under water, a dead hand pointing
  • in the direction his netted sister and the “damned
  • lost lot of niggers” had run. I guess
  • he was too obstinate even for the water
  • to hold down easily. Jackson used Ben
  • like a scarecrow, his shirt hooked on a pole,
  • his body meant to warn us from the road.
  • Lila’s still not certain that the girl will live.
  • Until tomorrow, I am ever your Joe.


Camille T. Dungy is the author of the poetry collections Smith Blue; Suck on the Marrow; and What to Eat, What to Drink, What to Leave for Poison. She edited Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry, and co-edited the From the Fishouse poetry anthology. Her honors include an American Book Award, two Northern California Book Awards, a California Book Award silver medal, and a fellowship from the NEA. Dungy is a professor in the creative-writing department at San Francisco State University.

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