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The Dirt-Eaters

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“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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The Dirt-Eaters

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