You have to eat a peck of dirt
before you die, my grandma said.

I worried. Did I have to?
Is that required? Or is a peck the breaking point

and then you die? What is a peck?
She grew up surrounded by small plots

of clean red dirt, no sidewalks or storefronts,
just golden burley and bright leaf

tobacco fields dug deep with labor, slaughter
and someone’s finger weighting every scale,

the way most land accumulation’s won.
In school I knew a kid who ate dirt

before anyone even made him.
When I asked my grandma why

I learned what hunger bullies souls to do.
She knew the dirt you ate, the dirt

beneath your fingernails, dirt scrubbed
from palm and kneecap with cold water

and a bristle brush—that’s all the earth
you own. It’s not what kills you either.


Hayden Saunier’s books of poetry include How to Wear This Body, Say Luck, Tips for Domestic Travel, and a chapbook, Field Trip to the Underworld. Her work has been awarded the Rattle Poetry Prize, Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry and the Gell Poetry Award. Her new book, A Cartography of Home, is due out in early 2021. (