Losing Language, an Essay by Camille T. Dungy
From the Emergence Magazine Podcast
Emergence Magazine is a quarterly online publication exploring the threads connecting ecology, culture, and spirituality. As we experience the desecration of our lands and waters, the extinguishing of species, and a loss of sacred connection to the Earth, we look to emerging stories. Each issue explores a theme through innovative digital media, as well as the written and spoken word. The Emergence Magazine podcast features exclusive interviews, narrated essays, stories, and more.
Rejecting the refrain “there are no words,” author and poet Camille T. Dungy reaches for a language that can encompass the experience of loneliness, erasure, and loss. Camille is the author of four collections of poetry, most recently Trophic Cascade, and a collection of personal essays, Guidebook to Relative Strangers. She was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2019.
From the episode:
I remember how heated our conversations became in the big house that weekend. As if our futures depended on everything we discussed, even when the conversation drifted to matters of little value. We argued about where in New York City you could find the best bagels, naming specific delis and bakeries and arguing over the relative chewiness of one’s bread or the creaminess of another’s schmear, until Carolyn—that is the dead woman’s name—silenced us.
She would never eat a New York bagel, she said. She spoke in the matter-of-fact way a docent might name the pattern on a set of everyday dishes. She said, “There are so many things I’ll never have a chance to taste.”
I shipped an express order of bagels and toppings to the house in the country later that week, after I returned home. By that time, Carolyn was hardly eating. I doubt she had a chance to enjoy any of it.
In the condolence card I sent my friend, I may have used a phrase I was taken with at the time: “There are no words.” I used to write this when someone I loved had lost someone they loved, because it made a sort of sense.
I don’t perceive this statement as consolation any longer.
There are words—about pain and the deepest kinds of sadness, about being orphaned and lonely and feeling bereft. There are words—about the inability to hold and, by that holding, to sustain another heart. There are words—and they matter—about the erasure of one particular light, of one particular life, and, with that life, all the lives that link with it, all the darkened histories that light—that life—once revealed.
These are difficult words to reach for in my language.
Listen to the rest of this essay on Emergence Magazine’s website or by subscribing to the podcast.
Interested in hearing more about this story? Join Camille T. Dungy and Emergence Magazine’s executive editor Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee on May 13th at 12pm (PDT) for a live conversation about this essay. Learn more here.