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

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