Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Dance of the Sweet Potato

I decided this year I would plant some black sweet potato vines 
to decorate with at Halloween.
They will look really good next to bright orange or ghostly white pumpkins.
So I've been rooting some cuttings from my biggest plant,
and now I have three plants. 

My favorite of the dark black vines is the one resting its leaves 
on the shoulder of my marble Buddha:

I love the contrast of the black vine against the white marble,
as well as the chartreuse creeping jenny on the Buddha's left,
and the bright fuchsia pink impatiens on his right.

Last year I rooted a sweet potato in water and grew a vine that way,
but the leaves were very small and the vine was lanky,
and not nearly as attractive as I remembered from childhood.
In fact it was down right scrubby looking.

But there was something else I recalled 
while thinking about my sweet potato vines:
a poem my mom used to read to us 
that was called "The Potatoes' Dance" by Vachel Lindsay,
a prominent American poet around the turn of the 20th century.
"The Potatoes' Dance" was published as part of Lindsay's work
"The Chinese Nightingale and Other Poems."

I always called the poem "The Dance of the Sweet Potato."
It is a narrative, but written with a lot of repeated lines
because Lindsay expected it to be chanted or sung (source:
Here's the story:
The setting is a dark cellar in the winter; the narrator is a cricket.
The potatoes are animated, with burnt match sticks for arms and legs. 
In the poem, they dance at a huge dinner party in honor of a beautiful Irish lady 
"whose wings were pearly white."
The poet describes her as "witty" and "saucy." 
Obviously, she was very charming 
and must have beguiled those starchy potatoes imprisoned in their dark winter crib.
 Lindsay says she is the fairy that gives potatoes their eyes, 
but the lady herself  has eyes for only one potato--and he's not Irish.

Yes, in the cellar it is one sweet potato alone who captivates the lady,
so much so that she dances with him all night,
much to the annoyance of the Irish potatoes.
At dawn, she flies away and the potatoes
toss the sweet potato into the coal bin
"and there he is today, where they cannot hear his sighs."

That's how the poem ends, and reading it now, I feel keenly its uneasy denouement.
But I like to think someone did rescue that sweet potato 
--probably around Thanksgiving,
maybe by inviting him to a big turkey dinner.

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