Letter with May’s Insatiable Hunger Tagging Along

This entry is part 13 of 15 in the series Ridge and Valley: an exchange of poems

Dear Dave,

Most of the days have been full of green rain and clouds the color
of magnolia petals as they rot in the emerging grasses. Three weeks ago
I planted half the potatoes (white Kennebecs), and just Monday

they broke the earth, a salad of leaves sprinkled with clay. The other half
(Adirondack reds) went into the earth yesterday. When I stuffed my hand
in the burlap sack to draw them out one by one, I discovered some had begun

to rot. I’ll bet the same will happen to us when the hasp of our bodies
is unbolted, that is, if we’ll allow it: old men wrapped in cloth, stuck
in pine boxes during the days of dogwood, its white shining and the Judas tree

just past. Wouldn’t it be nice to know that above our heads there are lady’s
slippers puffed pink and yellow, the world, as round as wild sarsaparilla’s globe,
spinning and spinning, never really going anywhere new, yet full of vengeance

and mercy and the most foolish blessings of these potatoes we’ll harvest in July
and August, boiled, then mashed—a river of butter and milk, salt and sugar,
the bitter pepper that makes us want to gorge ourselves upon this one sweet life.

Todd Davis

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Todd Davis (webpage) teaches creative writing, environmental studies, and American literature at Penn State University’s Altoona College. He is the author of three books of poetry - The Least of These (Michigan State University Press, 2010), Some Heaven (Michigan State University Press, 2007) and Ripe (Bottom Dog Press, 2002) - one chapbook, Household of Water, Moon, and Snow: The Thoreau Poems (Seven Kitchens Press, 2010), and co-editor of the anthology, Making Poems: 40 Poems with Commentary by the Poets (State University of New York Press, 2010). His poems have been featured on the radio by Garrison Keillor on "The Writer’s Almanac" and by Marion Roach on "The Naturalist’s Datebook," as well as by Ted Kooser in his syndicated newspaper column "American Life in Poetry." In addition to his creative work, Davis is the author or editor of six scholarly books, including Kurt Vonnegut’s Crusade, or How a Postmodern Harlequin Preached a New Kind of Humanism (State University of New York Press, 2006) and Mapping the Ethical Turn: A Reader in Ethics, Culture, and Literary Theory (University Press of Virginia, 2001). His latest book is an edited collection of creative nonfiction by poets writing about basketball.

10 Comments


  1. This is absolutely beautiful: whole and firm as a new potato plucked from its trench.

    Reply

  2. Yes, beautiful. And makes me want to gorge myself a little on life today.

    Reply

  3. Beth, Leslee, and Peter,

    I’m glad the poem and the potatoes were seasoned to your liking.

    Your kind words make me want to get back in the poetry kitchen!

    Reply

  4. a river of butter and milk, salt and sugar

    —like a flow of metaphors for the essence of potato: off-white, glistening, savory, sweet.

    And to think that, for centuries, it was thought beneath human consumption. Sometimes you just want to smack some of our ancestors.

    A beautiful well-grown poem, Todd.

    Reply

    1. Lucas,

      All I can say is “Amen” to smacking some of our ancestors, and to future generations I ask forgiveness for our mindless/clueless ways.

      Thanks for your kind words about the poem.

      Reply

  5. D’you know Todd, I just can’t get the notion of those potatoes out of my head, and I don’t think I’ll be able to do so until I’ve satisfied the unendurable craving your beautiful words have conjured. Please never ever go and work in the advertising department of some company flogging potato chips or confectionary, or we shall all be sunk.

    Here in the UK the Jersey Royal is always deemed to be the ‘Prince’ of ‘new season’ potatos, and it’s just starting to appear on the grocery shelves. I think I shall have to drive into Aberystwyth to seek some out for supper tonight.

    But seriously, a lovely piece of writing. Thank you.

    Reply

    1. Clive,

      No chance of me and advertising coming together. In fact, I read that to my wife and she had a good laugh imagining me in a suit and tie peddling whatever the company gives me to peddle. I’m only trying to sell the beauty of poems to my students most days.

      Enjoy the ‘Prince’ of potatoes tonight in all his glory!

      And thanks!

      Reply

  6. The last line is perfect. Yes. Please get in the poetry kitchen. I’m ready for the next course, meal, helpings, leftovers.

    (I’ve enjoyed this series, even if I don’t comment often.)

    Reply

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