By Jane Kenyon
In haste one evening while making dinner
I threw away a potato that was spoiled
on one end. The rest would have been
redeemable. In the yellow garbage pail
it became the consort of coffee grounds,
banana skins, carrot peelings.
I pitched it onto the compost
where steaming scraps and leaves
return, like bodies over time, to earth.
When I flipped the fetid layers with a hay
fork to air the pile, the potato turned up
unfailingly, as if to revile me --
looking plumper, firmer, resurrected
instead of disassembling. It seemed to grow
until I might have made shepherd's pie
for a whole hamlet, people who pass the day
dropping trees, pumping gas, pinning
hand-me-down clothes on the line.
From Poet's Choice in The Washington Post Book World. "I admire the smart whisper of comedy in Jane Kenyon's poems -- not ha-ha witticisms or jokes but rather Kenyon's subtly comic insight into depression, her affliction and frequently her subject," writes Robert Pinsky of Kenyon, who died in 1995. "Although she wrote candidly about severe, merciless depression, her poems demonstrate a joyous alertness to people and animals, to weather and landscape. She is alert even to spiritual dullness and laughs at it in herself...if depression is not dull, what is? It is dull even in oneself. Kenyon explores this insight with the heartbreaking energy of self-mockery. She deflates any sentimentality about depression and declines self-dramatization and self-importance while challenging her nemesis."
"The intricate, humiliating joke" of depression, Pinsky adds, "underlies bits of domestic comedy" in "Potato", where "the word 'redeemable,' placed by a forceful enjambment at the beginning of the second stanza, is echoed by the 'hand-me-down clothes' of the last line. Redemption: to get back what is discarded or spoiled, to salvage something, to do one's work after all. That goal, seemingly available and commonplace, turns out to be as unattainable as the trick wallet pulled back by a fishing line or the coin soldered to the street. Kenyon gives wry, triumphant verve to her unheroic examples of the potato and pumping gas."
Thanks so much everyone for the well-wishes. I am lots better than I was yesterday but figured I had better post this while I'm awake, since the anti-nausea medication seems to cause unconsciousness. The good news is that my husband and I spent 16 straight hours in bed together, uninterrupted by kids; the bad news is that we were both pretty much dead except when running for the bathroom. *g* (Plus, you know, we had cats between us.) He was never as sick as I was, and somehow managed to sit around on hospital floors and things while I was in the ER. I have a family history of ulcers -- mother and sister were both hospitalized with bleeding ulcers at various times -- so I knew as soon as I saw blood that I was going to end up in the emergency room. Turns out they could find no evidence of an ulcer, the gastroenterologist thinks I probably just had a small tear in the esophagus -- he said the lining of my stomach looked irritated but there was no bleeding by the time he looked.
Still, he wants me on Nexium for the next couple of months, and no alcohol, caffeine or spicy food whatsoever -- I hardly ever have alcohol or caffeine and it is a reflection of how gross I feel that the latter does not even make me sad at the moment, though I am sure on my birthday I will be lamenting loudly the lack of Indian food. The really bad news is that I cannot take any aspirin or ibuprofen products. Last night I had an absolutely murderous headache and the only Tylenol we had in the house was the liquid children's kind. They tested me for H. pylori (sp?) and some other things that need to be cultured so I need to see the doctor again in a couple of days. I got lucky in that my parents' neighbor across the street is a gastroenterologist -- he treated my mother and sister -- and even though he tries not to work on Shabbat, he came in just for me to do the endoscopy. The nearest hospital to my house is the one across the street from the National Institutes of Health, so we have excellent specialists in the area.
All suffering is relative, anyway -- my sister's husband's mother had had a benign tumor removed a month or so ago and had recovered so quickly that they said it was all right for her to go to Florida for Thanksgiving. Bad idea, apparently -- she had developed an infection in the meninges (sp?) near where the tumor was removed, and they had to remove a piece of bone to treat it, making the surgery major and scary. But she is fine, though still in the ICU, and my sister and family are home. Apparently my sister screamed at my parents when she found out they had taken my kids back to their house because my husband had gone with me to the hospital (he was in no shape to take care of them anyway) -- she told them that if my kids passed the flu on to her kids and they gave it to their grandmother and she died, it would be all their fault. (My father was also mad that she didn't ask how I was, considering that she had an ulcer and has had all these procedures too.) Now my parents and sister are not speaking to each other -- this is so typical. It wasn't as if there was anyone else I could call at 6 a.m. to get my kids!
The piñata my mother got for the kids for Thanksgiving, just before they whacked its head off.