Food medicine for them

by CORNELIA SMITH FICK

They came from Honeydew on Sundays
farm people on a lift
they brought children
with silent cries, mouths open like birds.
They brought malnutrition, two kinds:
marasmus, and kwashiorkor
known for turning hair red.
Sparse hair and bloodless gums.
Protruding stomachs.
They came to be scolded
‘you’re so fat, feed your child.’
Mute, not explaining that pap can feed an adult
but a child needs protein to hold the body
from leaking into legs, swollen, discoloured.
They brought marasmic babies
who stopped eating small,
had to be coddled to eat.
They came for the prescription:
Pronutro in the morning; mince, vegetables for lunch
and supper. they got better, slowly
depressed babies with large black
dead eyes waking up, showing interest in
waiting for that lift to bring mother.
Sometimes for six months, waiting.

(pap: mealie meal porridge)


A retired nurse, Cornelia Smith Fick was editor of a primary health care magazine and a writer for Takalani Sesame (radio and TV). Her poems and short stories are in Itch, Botsotso, Fractured poetics: a poetry anthology, Soho Square V, Bloomsbury, To breathe into another voice, a poetry/jazz anthology, Poetry Potion, Spelk, New Contrast and Atlanta Review. She is currently a PhD candidate at the University of the Western Cape.

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