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Potato Eaters

Potato Eaters

by Leonard Nathan

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

Product Details

Orchises Press
Publication date:
Edition description:
New Edition
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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