Songs of Eretz Poetry Review is pleased to present “Camille” by Cynthia Robinson Young. Young is a professor of Exceptional Education at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Georgia and earned an MFA in Creative Writing at San Francisco State under the late Stan Rice. Her work has appeared in Across the Generations Anthology, Radix Magazine, Wellsprings Journal, and in the 2016 Summer Poetry edition for Sixfold. Born and raised in Newark, New Jersey, she presently lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Cynthia Robinson Young
There was something about the air…
Camille’s cancer was eating it away,
her inevitable end.
I witnessed that ritual
once a week.
It was my duty,
Camille being my mother’s best friend
and I, my mother’s daughter,
though my palms always sweat
and my fingers always clung until
my mother began peeling me,
finger by finger, separating us.
I searched for shadows in that room to make myself
invisible. There were many,
but the smell lurked there
along with Camille’s nightmares.
In the darkness where even the sun refused to enter,
she whispered to me,
“Sweet Baby, come to Camille”
as if approaching death was as easy for me
as it was for her.
When she died,
my mother shed fresh tears
as if she had never wept for Camille before.
And she took me to that bedroom
one more time
assuring me that whatever I had feared
had been released.
So I sat in the hesitant sunlight
watching her fold the
that was Camille
and pack it neatly away.
Poet's Notes: I wrote this poem in response to my memories as a ten-year-old, accompanying my mother as she went to tend to her best friend who was dying. As a child, I couldn't put my finger on it, but as an adult, I have come to believe the air that surrounds a person who is leaving this world is not like the air we normally breathe, not even like the air in a room where a birth is taking place. When my husband's grandmother was in hospice care at home, I realized that the air I remembered was a reality, and even had a concreteness to it.
Editor’s Note: What a powerful and moving elegy! This poem beautifully and elegantly addresses the many emotions surrounding death and dying: fear, uncertainty, disgust, sorrow, and acceptance. While specific to one personal experience, the piece has a universal quality that I look for in poems that I publish.