Dec 202013
 

By JULIA SENDOR

POETRY SEMIFINALIST

When everything feels as dull as a potato,
even saying it has eyes sounds like a bad joke.
Those fleshy white bits sticking out
can’t see a thing. They just push
through brown dirt, to make shoots
that will die down in the heat, roots
that will be dug right up.

When everything feels as dull as a potato,
the truth is it’s better not to have eyes.
Please, please, please, you tell yourself,
be blind first to all but your breath.
That is the first blessing.
Your breath has all the wisdom you need
to keep the rhythm,
which may shift, but never fails
to make the exquisite exchanges,
that keep us living on.

If you do look out,
don’t look too far. Too much is parched
or overgrown beyond untangling.
Maybe look across the table at the church dinner
held to celebrate the foraged harvest
of the ramps—the wild leeks that grow lush
in these mountains. Look at the old man
stuffing a whole raw ramp in his mouth—
the long leaves stick out. As he chews,
they flicker like beautiful green snakes.
Look long enough to see it as a blessing.

But don’t let your seeing
go much farther than the tight horizon
of the church women sitting around the table,
chopping more ramps to be fried in bacon grease,
then turning to a trash can full of potatoes to peel.
Fill your hands with bundles of ramps
and rumps of potatoes.
Bind your eyes to nothing
beyond the slash of knife on leaves
or the creamy starch of potato
emerging as the peel falls away.
Peel till your fingers
are wrinkled and slick with starch-juice.
When the old man at the dinner tells you,
“I saw you peeling potatoes—you were blessed,”
think hard about what that means.

Blessed, blessed, blessed
are the meek, the poor in spirit, those who are weeping,
for you are stripped to nothing much
but your breath. Which returns you
to the forms that shape you.
In and out and in. Rest, eat, work, rest.
You hunker close against these forms;
at last you see all that your eyes can know:
that in the end those forms
will sustain you.

Blessed to follow the seed potatoes
pushing blind eyes into the dark,
sprouting green, falling back,
swelling their new tubers, some of which
you will save to plant again.

 

Julia Sendor helps run a small farm in Hillsborough, North Carolina.  After working as a journalist and community organizer in southern West Virginia, she returned to her home county to grow vegetables, milk cows and goats, and freelance for The Charlotte Observer.


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 December 20, 2013

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