Sharon Olds

The Food-Thief

(Uganda, drought)

They drive him along the road in the steady 
conscious way they drove their cattle 
when they had cattle, when they had homes 
and living children. They drive him with pliant 
peeled sticks, snapped from trees
whose bark cannot be eaten-snapped, 
not cut, no one has a knife, and the trees that can be 
eaten have been eaten leaf and trunk and the 
long roots pulled from the ground and eaten. 
They drive him and beat him, a loose circle of 
thin men with sapling sticks, 
driving him along slowly, slowly 
beating him to death. He turns to them 
with all the eloquence of the body, the 
wrist turned out and the vein up his forearm 
running like a root just under the surface, the 
wounds on his head ripe and wet as a 
loam furrow cut back and cut back at 
plough-time to farrow a trench for the seed, his 
eye pleading, the iris black and 
gleaming as his skin, the white a dark 
occluded white like cloud-cover on the 
morning of a day of heavy rain. 
His lips are open to his brothers as the body of a 
woman might be open, as the earth itself was
split and folded back and wet and
seedy to them once, the lines on his lips
fine as the thousand tributaries of a
root-hair, a river, he is asking them for life
with his whole body, and they are driving his body 
all the way down the road because
they know the life he is asking for –
it is their life.

spoken = Linsay Rousseau