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Recorded for Poem-a-Day, May 28, 2018.
About this Poem 

“I learned that statistic about sleep loss and was horrified. As I reflected on that number, I began to work on a series of poems that are composed of exactly seven hundred characters each. The title came relatively late in the process. I’d put the poem down for a long time. When I came back to it, I realized that in addition to describing the exhaustion of new parenthood it seemed to speak directly to how exhausting and precarious it often feels to live in this country in a body that looks like mine.”
—Camille T. Dungy

The Average Mother

The average mother loses 700 hours of sleep in the first year of her child’s life; or, what that first year taught me about America.

Most of us favor one side when we walk. As we tire, 
we lean into that side and stop moving in a straight line—
		so it takes longer to get anywhere, 
let alone home. 

		In wilderness conditions, 
	where people don’t know the terrain, 
a tired person might end up leaning so far into one side 
	they’ll walk in a circle rather than straight ahead. 

It can kill you, such leaning
		—and it can get you killed. 

				Rest helps. 

						I told my husband,

I walked in a circle in my mind but you came out okay. 

		Initially, he asked me to clarify, 
	but then he let it go. 

Who wrote that first If You Lived Here You’d Be Home by Now sign?  

		It seems I’m going to have to move. 

	I am tired and also sick 
of helping other people in lieu of helping myself. 

		Rest now. 

It's really not that bad: we’re in the home stretch. 

	That’s the mind of a parent. 
Relentless optimism in the face of sheer panic 
						and exhaustion.

Copyright © 2018 by Camille T. Dungy. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 28, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2018 by Camille T. Dungy. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 28, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Camille T. Dungy

Camille T. Dungy

Camille T. Dungy is the author of several books of poetry including, Smith Blue (Southern Illinois University Press, 2011).

by this poet


for Adrienne Rich in 2006

The poet's hands degenerate until her cup is too heavy.

You are not required to understand.
This is not the year for understanding.

This is the year of burning women in schoolyards
and raided homes


Don’t you think you should have another child?

This girl I have is hardtack and dried lime
           and reminds me, every groggy morning,
what a miracle it must have been
           when outfitters learned to stock ship holds
with that one long lasting fruit. How the sailors’

	Between raindrops, 

			space, certainly,

but we call it all rain.

          I hang in the undrenched intervals,

while Callie is sleeping,

	my old self necessary

and imperceptible as air.