Famine Relief (Marilyn Krysl)

Explain, please, this wonder, this
creaturous pleasure,

this ruby of feeling
while I feed another being: tell me why

when Hasina opens her mouth,
it’s as though the world in its entirety

opens, the lotus of Buddha unfolding
its jewel. Veil of skin, draped over

bone: Hasina’s fourteen, so thin
she can’t walk, sit up,

hold a cup. Eyes a single beam
scanning for food, even when

she’s full. She’s the mouth
of the soul, open

around hunger, asking
the way a baby, without guile,

is good with greediness
to know the world. To feed another being

is like eating: both of us
filling ourselves

with the certainty that there is,
in us and around us,

kindness so infinite
that we cannot be lonely. Hasina

might have been the one with the spoon,
fleshy, of substantial body,

I the skeleton-but that too would be
wrong. Under the pull of full sun

at noon, I hear the temple
gong, summoning the faithful,

and in the lull of echo,
the jangle of bells on the women’s

ankles. Hasina looks up,
I lift the spoon, balancing the pans

of our scale: ours
is a life of satiety

and hunger, the haves and the have nots,
these two conditions

spread through the universe
so that we may know hunger,

so that we may learn
to feed each other. Not perfection

but the lesson, enacted over
and over again: Hasina and I

by chance or quantum design,
chosen to perform this hallowed, ancient

devotion-one the Venus of Willendorf,
each of those many breasts

overflowing, the other Kali
in her starved aspect,

shrill around emptiness,
and devouring, devouring.


Discussion Questions

  1. After feeding the starving girl, the speaker mentions “kindness so infinite/that we cannot be lonely.” What do you make of this statement? How might or might not this statement be applicable in medicine?
  2. What role does food play in this poem? Why is food an important part of the relationship between the two girls?

One thought on “Famine Relief (Marilyn Krysl)

  1. I’ll take a stab at Discussion Question #1 because I found that line so lovely.
    By looking at the lines before it: “both of us
    filling ourselves

    with the certainty that there is,
    in us and around us,

    kindness so infinite
    that we cannot be lonely.””

    I believe that the piece is speaking to the fact that human connection is built through compassion and kindness, such as the simple act of feeding another. I like how the author alludes to the fact that kindness isn’t given or taken (i.e. setting up a “helper” and “receiver”), but something that is in us and around us to share. I think this ties to medicine because each encounter we make with patients can be surrounded in kindness. Not as someone giving kindness, but in filling both people, speaking to the reciprocal nature.

    Something I also found interesting was that the allusions made in the poem are vast and worldly, but tied to what can be seen as a simple action: sharing food with another human being. In this way, this poem shows the “infinite kindness” and power of compassion in small actions that can have very large effects.


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