Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsFall 2019  Vol. 18 No. 2
an online journal of literature and the arts
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The Potato Eaters

We had a Ford Country Squire station wagon.
And a TV (black-and-white).
And good Sunday clothes.
But we still made a garden.
That’s the way it was said,
“made a garden.”
Green beans (rows and rows it seemed when weeding),
tomatoes, squash (everybody’s squash came in—
that’s the way it was said, “came in”—
at the same time so you couldn’t give it away).
And potatoes.
My father and uncle shared a tractor
so in spring to lay off the furrows—
that’s what was said, “lay off”—
one would go to the other
to see was he going to use the tractor that day.
Now here’s the medieval part:
after Dad had plowed out the furrows,
he would take a bucket of 10-10-10
and hand cast it into the dirt,
his gloved hand rasping on the bucket bottom
to make sure to get it all.
Then it was my job to drag a big log chain
up and down the rows to mix in the fertilizer.
Where he came up with the chain idea I don’t know.
Horse-like I pulled, both hands behind my back,
the chain trailing and chiming.
Then Dad went along with the seed potatoes
he’d sliced so that each piece had an eye.
That was the job I wanted,
cutting the eye pieces.
Our hoe gently covered them.
When the potato bugs came for the plants,
I was told how to mix the Sevin Dust with water
and spray even up under the leaves. “Up under.”
When the mixture got on my hands,
I’d eventually taste it at the back of my mouth.
Then in the fall he’d get the tractor again
and plow out the potatoes.
I came behind with my bucket.
At first it was hard to tell the spuds
from the clods of dirt,
but you got an eye for it after a while.
At the beginning of a row,
the potatoes gonged on the bucket bottom
but as the bucket got heavier it also got quieter.
I emptied the bucket into a basket at the end of the row.
Dad dug a pit and lined it with straw
and capped it with a piece of tin,
leaving one dark hole so that you could reach in.
Sent to get potatoes for supper
I knew each time my hand would not come back out right,
spider, wintering snake, or just the dark would clutch it.
I guess with what we saved on food
we got an upgrade to a color TV.
Mother told folks she was going to let the radiation from the TV
cure the cancer the dye from all the Kool-Aid had given us
and so we gathered in the backwash light, the news,
and ate thereof.  

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