An interdisciplinary journal about regions, places, and cultures of the US South and their global connections
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  • The Dirt Eaters

    Southern Tradition of Eating Dirt Shows
    Signs of Waning
    —headline, The 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.

     

    Published in The Venus Hottentot (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1990).

    Published: 10 December 2009
    © 2009 Elizabeth Alexander and Southern Spaces