Poem | Sweet Potato Elegy

Elements of agriculture, for use in schools (1901)


The box-dry grit of root and spackled dirt
like some rock’s underside turned up too long

betrays no hint of affability
or orange scarcely, nearly russet, whorled

into a joint of earth, plucked up by whom
I’ll never know; it made it to this box.

The recipe you sent requires six
of “middle” size. I heft or fondle one

or two, my fingers small; these bulbous garnets
shuttling around in elbowed zags

refuse to match their contours in my hands.
The stones they’ve grown around are smooth and gone.

I used to think a tumor like a stone
or tuber could be lifted from the land

it lodged in. This was not so. Sweet orange flesh
of future bloom, you’ll spread your steaming funk

for us tomorrow if I tend you well:
brown sugar, butter, water, life

and marshmallows melted over top
encrusting taut and dry, a linen sheet

exposing what the earth would rather hide
and what exuded mirth comes sinewy

and fast, a syrup born of baking, run
of tongue, your hands not here, your recipe.

Published in the May 18, 2018 issue: 

John Linstrom’s poems and literary nonfiction have appeared or are forthcoming in Valparaiso Poetry Review, Dunes Review, Broad River Review, This Week in Poetry, and Prairie Gold: An Anthology of the American Heartland.

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