Potato Eaters

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
"Sometimes, the naked taste of potato/ reminds me of being poor./ The first bites are gratitude,/ the rest, contented boredom." Nathan is a poet of simple lyrics that are deceptive in their depth. They are not ambitious but built in quiet, unassuming lines that follow one step at a time to some high place, some greater, more wondrous perspective. Remembering his youth, he writes, "Never again was my father so angry,/ my mother so still as she set the table,/ or I so much at home." It is not difficult for the reader to feel at home in these poems, whether they speak of that simple childhood in a language as subtle as that of folk stories or leaps of, and into, faith. These are wise poems that take the reader along with them, rather than pointing the way; and the further the reader travels, the more familiar everything seems: "no end it seems to leaving home, to coming home." Recommended for all contemporary poetry collections.--Louis McKee, Painted Bride Arts Ctr., Philadelphia
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780914061755
  • Publisher: Orchises Press
  • Publication date: 1/28/1999
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 96
  • Product dimensions: 5.54 (w) x 8.58 (h) x 0.26 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


Sometimes, the naked taste of potato
reminds me of being poor.
The first bites are gratitude,
the rest, contented boredom.

The little kitchen still flickers

like a candle-lit room in a folktale.

Never again was my father so angry,
my mother so still as she set the table,
or I so much at home.


Night, and a candle guttering on the table.
Three low stools. Father spoons
his mush, growling just a little now.
Mother intently watches her men.
Am I the only one who hears the cry,
sees the scared girl stumbling on
through the dark and dripping woods, hungry, cold?
But yellow hair, so not our kind.
Speech beyond us still, we growl softly,
nuzzle, and—our claws retracted—stroke.
Father scrapes the bowl. Mother, rising,
sighs me far away and lost.


As in the cartoon the vengeful fat boy
with thick glasses mixes chemicals
secretly in a test tube while
his innocent parents call him to dinner,
so I mix and mixed even before
I owned my first chemistry set,
mixed hope with disbelief, dream
with what was no dream, mixed
childish love with the loneliness
of grownups, and still I mix, now
the courage of others with my fear,
their kindnesswith my desire, their clarity
with my cloudy, brown confusion,
mix and taste, mix and taste
each new potion—this time perhaps ...
Gone is the beautiful glass city
of retort and beaker, crystal chambers
crushed under seventy-seven layers
of failure, and gone, too, the hope
of golden transmutation, but still
I mix, requiring now only
the base matter of being human,
rusty blood of a used heart,
gray mush of a warmed-over brain,
and the fat boy's autistic need—
elixir that would make everything
as it was before, simple and warm,
timeless and good, however bitter
the brew, however bitterly fatal
to the system.
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Table of Contents

The Potato Eaters 11
In The Woods 12
Alchemist 13
Museum Piece 14
Ghosts 15
The Gifts 17
The Silents 18
The Frail Inheritance 19
Boys at the Edge 20
Home From The War 21
October 22
Circlings 23
Bedtime Story for Insomnia 24
The Presences 25
Outside the Window 26
Postcard from Hellas 29
Silhouette 30
Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem 31
Truth 32
Binoculars 33
Snow Bound 34
Hearing Things 35
Fools 36
In the Carpenter's Shop 38
The Art of Crickets 39
The Old Poet 40
Another Story 41
Music of Rain 42
Faith 45
Last Chance Motel 46
Another Ghost Story 47
Ah 48
Couple 49
Minna 50
From the Mountain 51
Someone Just Like You 52
The Nest 53
Vision in the Ice Cream Parlor 54
Conversation 55
On The Way North 56
For the Many Things that Fall Slowly 59
Point Revelation 60
The Fossil Record 61
Many Kinds 62
Old Shoe 63
Intensive Care 64
Pursuits After Seventy 65
Retreat 66
Out on the Flats 67
Is that the Sea? 68
Migration 69
Children of the Marsh 70
The Naturalist 71
Departures 72
Black Bull 73
Figures 74
Password 75
From One Gray Feather 76
Prelude 79
Pacific Coast Time 80
If 81
Letter from Pliny 82
In the Retirement Home 83
Second Pressing 84
Human Tears 85
In Corinth Once 86
From the Moon 87
"The Tigers of Wrath are Wiser Than the Horses of Instruction"
Mamie Sharp 89
Pilgrim 91
Winter Ode 92
Ark 93
January 94
Homecoming 95
Sacrament 96
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