Watching a Sicilian Farmer Plant Patate – by Rick Swann

Watching a Sicilian Farmer Plant Patate

The orange tractor harrows the damp red
soil that four months from now will adhere
to the newly exposed potatoes like it does
the tractor’s wheels, the soil that, these days,
will be completely hosed off, potatoes
coming to us clean and lacking all clues
as to where they were unearthed.
At age five, on the Fourth of July, sent
to the Connecticut field that stretched
an entire half mile to my grandparent’s
house to dig new potatoes for dinner
the plain green plants with small white
flowers looking nothing like what
I was supposed to find; fingers scrabbling
to locate thumb-sized rocks and tubers.
It was like fumbling in the dark to locate
favorite toys except for the smell of earth
that clung to the skins and the wonderment.
Within two months I’d be working
alongside my sister, cousins and a bus full
of Puerto Rican men from Springfield piling
potatoes as big as my fist into wooden barrels
taller than me, the chattering in Spanish
as baffling as my mother’s uncontrollable
crying that had not stopped for weeks,
my grandfather buried in the same red dirt.
The dirt that fifteen years later looked black
by moonlight when my roommate and I gleaned
the potato field my grandmother now leased
to another farmer—she insisting we harvest
after dark since it was no longer her field—
the three hundred pounds of potatoes
helping us survive the long winter.
Today, on a Sicilian January afternoon
that far-away New England field lies
fallow and covered by snow, but as I wend
my way to a Roman watchtower that overlooks
ancient salt flats full of migrating flamingoes,
the scent of freshly churned earth
worms its way down through the years.

Rick Swann is a former children’s librarian and a member of Seattle’s Greenwood Poets. His book of linked poems, Our School Garden!, was awarded the Growing Good Kids Book Award from the American Horticultural Society and Junior Master Gardeners. His poems have been accepted to Windfall, Blue Collar Review, Autumn Sky Poetry, and Typehouse Literary Magazine.

Art: “The Veil” by Sandy Coomer - 6X6, acrylic pour on claybord
Statement: The damp red soil clumps and the potatoes are dug out of it, a labor of necessity. Now covered under a veil of memory, the poet holds the fields of the past with a sort of calm resolve.