The Dirt-Eaters

By Elizabeth Alexander b. 1962 Elizabeth Alexander

“Southern Tradition of Eating Dirt Shows
Signs of Waning”
—headline, New York Times, 2/14/84

tra
dition
wanes
I read
from North
ern South:
D.C.

Never ate
dirt
but I lay
on Great-
grandma’s
grave
when I
was small.

“Most cultures
have passed
through
a phase
of earth-
eating
most pre
valent today
among
rural
Southern
black
women.”

Geo
phagy:
the practice
of eating
earthy matter
esp. clay
or chalk.

(Shoe-
boxed dirt
shipped North
to kin)

The gos
sips said
that my great-
grand
ma got real
pale when she
was preg
nant:

“Musta ate
chalk,
Musta ate
starch, cuz
why else
did her
babies
look
so white?”

The Ex
pert: “In ano
ther gener
ation I
sus
pect it will dis
appear al
together.”

Miss Fannie Glass
of Creuger, Miss.:
“I wish
I had
some dirt
right now.”

Her smile
famili
ar as the
smell
of
dirt.

Elizabeth Alexander, "The Dirt-Eaters" from Antebellum Dream Book. Copyright © 2001 by Elizabeth Alexander. Reprinted by permission of Graywolf Press, St. Paul, Minnesota, www.graywolfpress.org.

Source: The Venus Hottentot (Graywolf Press, 2004)

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Poet Elizabeth Alexander b. 1962

Subjects Class, History & Politics, Eating & Drinking, Social Commentaries, Activities

 Elizabeth  Alexander

Biography

Elizabeth Alexander was born in Harlem, New York, but grew up in Washington, DC, the daughter of former United States Secretary of the Army and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission chairman, Clifford Alexander Jr. She holds degrees from Yale, Boston University and the University of Pennsylvania, where she earned her PhD. Currently the chair of African American Studies at Yale, Alexander is a highly respected teacher and . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Class, History & Politics, Eating & Drinking, Social Commentaries, Activities

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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