Thinking Potatoes

Jun 9, 2017

Today’s poem, “Thinking Potatoes” is by Leonore Hildebrandt. She’s the author of The Work at Hand and The Next Unknown. A native of Germany, Leonore lives “off the grid” in Harrington, Maine. She teaches writing at the University of Maine and serves on the editorial board of the Beloit Poetry Journal.

She writes that “just as seeds and tubers derive from an unbroken heritage, so do the humans who handle them. I like Michael Pollan’s idea that we serve the cultivated plants by propagating them, so in a sense they have cultivated us. On a trip to the Andes, the mountains where the potato originates, I witnessed the preparation of chicha, a fermented drink made from corn. Before drinking, people would spill a bit of liquid on the ground and say, "Pachamama, santa tierra,” giving thanks to the Earth Mother. This poem expresses my gratitude for the pleasure and solace I derive from working with soil and plants.

Thinking Potatoes
Leonore Hildebrandt

French Fingerlings. Magic Molly.
In a shallow box by the window
this year’s tubers warm to the thought
of growing. They understand fertility
as a sequence of moves. Fuzzy sprouts
push from the dust-shriveled skin,
eyes urge toward an opening.

Obliging, I will place each tuber
into the soil of their dark-days
like others before me––a line of planters
who have bent over shallow trenches,
who have hilled and watered
and in summer marveled at elegant plants
bearing white and purple blooms.

The strength of these earth companions––
to burrow down and resurrect.
In the Andes, the world-mother is offered
a meal and a sprinkling of chicha.
Does she fathom the depth of our hunger?
Cradled in my hand, this nightshade
offers something like a future.

Poem copyright © 2015 Leonore Hildebrandt.
Reprinted from Otis Nebula 10, by permission of Leonore Hildebrandt.