THE EATERS When did you last hear of those intrusive presences, the ones with the dark message hidden behind their ears, the ones who came only at night and only with omnivorous intent? They would eat anything, wouldn't they? And drink. My god, they would mash up every berry and vegetable in the house, add the sugar and spice of their own piss to make their beer and wine. They could hardly wait for the fermentation to begin before they would put their lips to the edge of the lip of the jug, sucking up gallons in a single draught. When those men had finally drunk enough, they would run to the edge of the trees and tear off leaves to roll up into scraps of newspapers for an after-dinner smoke. They were poor, poor in everything but appetite. Don't you remember their celebratory howls? I kept feeding them bushels of carrots, the carcasses of old chickens, and once I stole a monkey from the zoo and threw it into the pot, but they were indifferent to any refinement of taste. Everything was the same to them, as long as it was food, and as long as it didn't break their teeth, which were very tough teeth, like the teeth of horses. They had huge loud voices and when they started talking the inside of the house felt like the inside of a drum boom boom boom. It wasn't that they demanded too much, it was merely the terrible strength of their need. Long before they would arrive, you could feel it everywhere. The vegetables in the garden began to grow larger with the ache of that insatiable demand. The beets and the carrots would literally burst from the ground, demanding to be cooked, and once a stream of potatoes shot through the kitchen window like a shower of meteorites. We, too, felt the pull of that fantastic hunger, like a kind of reverse gravity, the curved drag of a magnet. Days before their arrival, we would find ourselves ordering in extra provisions, preparing dinners for guests who were not even present. After a couple of years, of course,we learned to recognize these urges as the signal of their imminent arrival. Of course, they were always incredibly grateful. The breath of their thanks would knock you off your feet, hold you pressed to the wall, and of course, they always insisted on singing for their supper. Nothing you could say would dissuade them. Neighbours miles away would telephone to complain. At least the cops kept their distance. They had heard tales of these monstrous appetites and thought perhaps that any kind of flesh might be food for their pots, even the rancid flesh of cops. Since they never came, we never found out what might happen. Normal people seemed to be accepted readily into their company, apart from the fact that they could never understand why the visitors would ever decline the huge, stinking pot-fulls of food that they offered, the jugs of vegetable beer and berry wine. When they ate alone among themselves, they ate without speech, but they were far from silent. Great gulping and sucking sounds, like the sound of elephants dragging their feet from the mud, incredible guttural snorts, belches which seemed to come from the bowels of the earth itself, farts that rumbled like bubbles in magma, smelling of sulphur and mashed vegetables. They were too polite to make eating compulsory for others. Eating by itself was occupation enough for them, but their notions of courtesy demanded conversation with their guests. It was hard to tell which was harder to take without wincing. Their words had a way of entering your belly like wind into a balloon. They left you bloated, exhausted, more flatulent than any plate of beans. Yet their childlike desire for approval and acceptance was all the more touching because of their giant ugliness. Not that they were boring, either. They had their own philosophers and poets, and spoke from a decidedly different and interesting point of view. For example, they always felt that the sexes should be kept separate. Whereare your women? you might ask them. Our wives stay at home was their answer, while we roam the earth, scouring for food which we engorge until we reach this gargantuan size. Then we return to the fold. By means of cunning scientific devices invented by our ancestors, the flesh and fat we have laid on our bones are drained into vast communal vats from which the women and the children feed. We shrink in short order from our huge six foot girth to slender and willowy little slips of eight-foot men. We do not stay with the women and children, and we do not make love to our wives except at certain carefully appointed times because we would thereby develop a terrible nostalgia for home and be rendered incapable of our husbandly duties of travelling the world to hunt for food and hospitality so that our wives and children may be fed. Gluttony and lechery, in our world, they would say, are mutually exclusive, and therefore we have fewer reasons to be damned than others, for which we forever thank God. Not everyone lives like this, we know, their philosophers would remark, somewhat dejectedly and apologetically, while their poets kept up a mournful litany of the names of their loved ones at home, their touching little habits, their own loneliness, and so on, like soldiers sent to wars on foreign soil. We have never known any other way, their philosophers would say, and now it is far too late to change.
|The East Village Poetry Web