How Human It Is to Be Hungry
Chicken bones rest scattered on a plate, surrounded by the crumbs of a newly eaten steak. Cherry Kool-Aid stained lip-shaped on the side of the cup; artificial red remnants pool in its base. A pecan pie slice sits on the side of the food tray. Unfinished¹. Have you thought about the last thing you want to be filled with? What is the last thing that will stick to the sides of your teeth in a mouth that will one day be decayed?
Scrolling through the Wikipedia page of documented last meals of condemned prisoners feels like reading a ledger. We record their last words, the last thing they eat, the time of their final heartbeat. Confined to cages with their lives end under a blanket of fluorescence. In 2011, Texas stopped giving death row inmates the option to choose their last meal. Whatever the general population is fed on the date of their death is what they’re served. They don’t get to choose the last thing to gnaw between their human teeth. Gulp down their human throat. Break down with their human enzymes. And I mention “human” so much because I think we forget how quickly humanity escapes someone the moment they are read their verdicts.
To ask for a last meal, or not. In 2002, Turkey abolished the death penalty. Those sentenced to the highest offences are given aggravated life imprisonment in F-Type prisons. Over one-hundred-twenty-two F-Type prisoners have died from Death Fasting. Hunger strikes, where death is the goal. They protest the inhumanity of their confinement, the uninhabitable-ness of their dwellings. Their cells are described as coffin-sized – they meet death before their last breath is drawn out. Sustaining themselves on the littlest bit of nothing. Hunger wilts away every cell in their being. They deflate the life out of their bodies. How brave it is to fight against a most common desire.
There will be a day when our bodies will only be bones. Bones mapped with our lives, that people will hardly be able to read. One day, our tongues will no longer touch food. Hunger will implode in our stomachs. Fill all the fault lines that made some of us less than human. Less than that want of hunger.
¹ Ricky Ray Rector was put to death on 24 January 1992 in Arkansas. The third person to be murdered by the state since Furman v. Georgia. His last meal: fried chicken, steak, cherry Kool-Aid, and a slice of pecan pie. Ricky Ray left his slice of pie, telling guards that he was “saving it for later.” Last words that had many questioning whether he should’ve been put to death, since a failed suicide attempt lobotomised him. Bill Clinton, campaigning for the 1992 election at the time, used Ricky Ray’s death to not only relay his stringent belief in capital punishment to help him secure the presidency, but also to deflect from a looming sex scandal. It took fifty minutes for executioners to find a suitable vein. Fifty minutes for Ricky Ray to be murdered by the state. His leftover slice of pecan pie was not disposed of until after his death.
Brimmed with blood, you are a well. It cascades
down you like juice drips off rotten fruit. Your edifice:
built in two. A set of thirty-two teeth, you are exposed
bone. What will you inhale today? Half-eaten,
but always begging someone to take another bite.
Cultivated & cultivating: you are a farmer. No more,
you lament in every language – still they flout.
You are the trail west. A road diverged in two. How many
things have lived & died inside of you? And, who?
Jae Eason is a poet from Long Island, New York. They studied English Literature at Arizona State University. While there, they won a Swarthout Award in Poetry. They currently work as an Office Manager at Brooklyn Poets and an English Teacher in South Korea. If they are not up to all the normal things people usually do, they’re most likely having an existential crisis.
*Image by Armando Ascorve Morales on Unsplash