Thursday, September 15, 2016

What My Father Ate

My father survived almost 5 years of slave labor in Buchenwald Concentration Camp.

He worked 12-14 hours a day and 6 and 7 days a week, and lived on about 600 calories of food a day.

Once he complained that he was starving to a guard, and the guard clubbed him repeatedly across the face until my dad was permanently blind in one eye.

I once asked my dad how he could live on 600 calories a day.

The poem "What My Father Ate" grew out of his answer.

Here's the poem and a youtube of my reading it:


He ate what he couldn’t eat,
what his mother taught him not to:
brown grass, small chips of wood, the dirt
beneath his gray dark fingernails.

He ate the leaves off trees. He ate bark.
He ate the flies that tormented
the mules working in the fields.
He ate what would kill a man

in the normal course of his life:
leather buttons, cloth caps, anything
small enough to get into his mouth.
He ate roots. He ate newspaper.

In his slow clumsy hunger
he did what the birds did, picked
for oats or corn or any kind of seed
left in the dry dung left by the cows.

And when there was nothing to eat
he’d search the ground for pebbles
and they would loosen his saliva
and he would swallow that.

And the other men did the same.


The entire poem is available in my book Echoes of Tattered Tongues.  Click here.

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