1054: Hunger

1054: Hunger

1054: Hunger


I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown.

I made a silly comment to my friend Kasim: “If only I could stop eating food altogether.” He said, “Dream on,” then advised I try intermittent fasting. I balked. Later that evening, while eating a chocolate cookie, I flipped open my computer to do some research. The articles were persuasive, as were the before/after pics.

I targeted the next Sunday as a start date — I wasn’t going to miss a co-worker’s Saturday barbecue. So I moved the new date on my Google calendar to the following week, then I remembered the visiting author due to arrive on campus, and all the delicious meals I would miss.

So, I started my fast right away. In the first few hours, I put to work a will-and-determination that I didn’t think I possessed. I had eight more hours to go. I distracted myself by going to Whole Foods — nothing like advancing into enemy territory while one’s stomach cries out “Feed me, Major. Feed me.” I walked listlessly by the croissants and bagels, by the blackberries and grapes, by the hot tins of aromatic soups and counted the minutes.

Alas, by dinner time, my midsection ached a cavern of emptiness. Ravenous, I tore into leftover lasagna — cold — and drank orange juice straight from the carton.

We all are wrought with hungers, of all varieties. They’ve played an outsized role in the history of the world. Maybe even driven it.

Today’s poem reveals how our appetites take us beyond considerations of the earth and its resources. What we leave in our wake is a record of our cravings and our misguided sense of a limitless world.

by Ryler Dustin

The half-moon rises over the path,
                                                             a low, sick-sweet note
                         and deer bones shine in damp brush.

        My shadow slides below the lamps, a hunter
                                                             whose hands hang like bagged birds.

                         It’s dangerous, on nights like this, 
                                                             to look for the Lord in his works—
                                                when hunger swells in every living thing.

                      Dragonflies, ravenous, hawk the steaming field.
Raccoons gnaw crayfish at the river’s edge.
                                             A stray dog digs for something dead.

        Longing, the Lord must have said,
                      will weave through this world’s wet breath—

                                                                                             cricket thrum, feline whine,
                                                                    water-pulse of babble and brush.

        The Lord’s angel is his ache,
                                            a tear in the clouds where stars spark through
                         to help the owl kill.


Creation is a relentless rhythm—
                                                                  a looped song of longing
                                              swirled into passing forms—

                         the season’s bloom of doomed mayflies,
sparrows snatching moths by a sycamore,
                                             mantis eggs bobbing on a blade of grass,
                   the first few hatched and feeding on the rest.

Such fecund, ferocious need
                                            throbs in the filaments of feeling things
                    and love is not near the heart of this—

                                                             it is a late, lucky appendage, 
                unlikely as the life of one lacewing.


The creek wears moonlight like a coat of mirrors,
                                          leads me past dumpsters to a marsh’s dark lip 
                  where one swamp rose dips low.

        I follow its overgrown tendrils down
to dream’s glimmer and sluice
                         where the moon makes a wavering road on water,
        shines on fine fish bones—
                              half-eaten, translucent, nudging the reeds.

If there’s a heaven, we will bend
                                                 to examine our old selves

                 and wonder how something so delicate
     was ever allowed.

"Hunger" by Ryler Dustin from TRAILER PARK PSALMS © 2023 Ryler Dustin. Used by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.