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TWO HUNGERS / Kevin Stein 1.Great Famine, 1845 Never one for portents or signs, the little clues the world flaunts before our inattentive eyes, I hardly noticed the surfeit of flies, the finely polished wealth of shimmering wings—even their drone a low moan my ear became accustomed to, the way those who care for the dying seldom note a man's last hard-won breath. By autumn, our globe was a badly bruised pear the bees had done with, beset with flies!—though it wasn't fruit they were after but potatoes rotting in heaps in every garden plot or field of Hanover. The rains brought late blight, white mold jacketing the undersides of leaves, and below, thin-skinned sacks of mush, useless flesh gone the way of all flesh. 2.Proposal It wasn't the hunger made me ask, though it was appetite nonetheless. In six months, enough of us had died the gravediggers hired help and paid cash for new shovels. I didn't want to starve to death never having had a woman, God bless my soul. When I went to Mary Angela, 84 · The Missouri Review she was dressed in her best black frock, hair pinched tight, pinned and adorned with her mother's only lace. She already knew! I asked her how. "It's just my shoes had come untied," she said, "and kept coming untied all week. Mother says it's sure sign I'll be asked to marry." She said yes before I got the chance. I felt like the greedy child who comes upon his hidden birthday gift: that blush of animal joy tinged with lost surprise. Kevin Stein The Missouri Review · 85 BLACK BREAD / Kevin Stein Oh honeyed sluice to paradise—the one I'd dreamt of on sweltering afternoons, tools slung across my back, sizing a casket for the dead, fitting a table for the neardead who had no money and paid in bread, which seemed insane to me, for who needs a table when there's nothing but elbows to put on it?—that slide to peace began without the giddy rush I'd expected, the fierce holiness of vengeful angels singing, "We're free, and sailing to America!" It didn't feel like freedom to camp, hungry and dirty, on a Bremerhaven dock, to be seventy-sixth and -seventh in line for the Anna Marie, cargo ship bound for Baltimore. But then, how could I know what freedom felt like, never having been free? With the proper coin, Td have bribed the ship's clerk to get on board before the dry berths were taken. I had none. We were bound to get wet, and did. Td saved a tin of pitch from the last casket Td sealed, and we smeared black globs where timbers spouted sea water with each heave and toss. Stacked along the ship's flanks like boxes, the upper berths kept dry and free of rats. Not ours. At night, Td envy each pair of shoes mounting the rope ladder, then the other mounting: grunting lovers who could not wait six weeks for a suitable bed, The Missouri Review four walls, a door that locked. I wondered if the ship's constant rocking were hindrance or help, and thought to find out for myself. But my wife was not as curious as I, and instead Td lie in salty puddles, imagining the creatures who watched us pass above them: big-eyed, toothy, cold-blooded and hungry as us, patiently awaiting the worm wood to spill me into their jaws. It made me strangely at home. A gaggle of toughs had snuck on liquor. Drunk, and randy from weeks at sea, they'd pinch our daughters and eye the wives, then piss wherever they wanted. I had an axe, a hatchet, and Td have lopped theirs off, if need be; they kept their distance. Every inch reeked of their piss, of Virginia tobacco surely harvested by slaves, like the dark-skinned one attending the ship's captain. Age ten or twelve, he gave a face to the faceless mass I imagined bent at the waist in a field, culling the crop unloaded at Bremerhaven...


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