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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Ode to Dirt

Air Date: Week of October 4, 2002

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Rebecca McClanahan reads "Something Calling My Name", her poem about a woman from Alabama who gave up her passion for tasting a bit of clay now and again to please her husband.

Transcript

CURWOOD: A research letter in a recent issue of the journal The Lancet corroborates the notion that children who grow up on farms have fewer allergies because they are exposed to a lot of microbes in the soil.

Country kids play in dirt, dig in dirt, and sometimes love to eat dirt. Not all of them outgrow the urge. And that brings us to a poem by Rebecca McClanahan. She writes about one southern woman who gave up eating dirt for her husband. It’s called "Something Calling My Name."

MCCLANAHAN: I tried to tell him. But he won’t hear.Earl, I say, it’s safe. It’s cleanif you dig below where man has been,deep to the first blackness.I tell him. But he won’t hear.Says my mouth used to taste like mud,made him want to spit.

I tried to tell him how fine it was.When I was big, with Earl, Junior and Shad,I laid on my back, my belly all swelledlike the high dirt hillssloping down to the bankabove the gravel road by Mama’s.And I’d dream it. Rich and black after rain.Like something calling my name.

I’d say, Earl, remember? That spring in Chicago,I thought I’d die, my mouth all tasteless,waiting for Wednesdays, shoeboxesfull of the smell of home.The postman, he’d scratch his head,but he kept on bringing. Bless Mama.She baked it right, the way I like.Vinegar-sprinkled. And salt.I’d carry it in the little red pouchor loose in my apron pocketand when the day got too long and dryand Earl home too late for loving,I’d have me a taste. It saved me, it did.

And when we finally made it back,the smell of Alabama soilpoured itself right through me.I sang again, and things were finetill the night he leaned back and said"No More," his man-smells, all richand mixed up with evening. Right there,laying by me, he made me choosebetween his kisses and my clay.

Now, afternoons when it gets too much,I reach for the stuff he gave me.Baking soda. Starch. I’ve tried it all.But I don’t hold with it.It crunches good, but it’s all bleached outand pasty. It just don’t take the place.

Earl, I say, I’ve given it up.And right then, I have.But sometimes, on summer nights like thiswhen the clouds hang heavyand I hear that first rumble and the earthpeels itself back and the crust darkensand the underneath soil bubbles updamp and flavored, it all comes backand I believe I’d do anythingto kneel at that bankabove the gravel road by Mama’sand dig in deep till my arms are smearedand scoop it wet to my mouth.

CURWOOD: Rebecca McClanahan is a writer who lives in New York City. Her latest collection of essays is called "The Riddle Song and Other Rememberings."

 

Links

Rebecca McClanahan’s website

 

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