Cover image for The potato eaters
The potato eaters
Nathan, Leonard, 1924-2007.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Washington [D.C.] : Orchises, 1999.
Physical Description:
96 pages ; 22 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS3564.A849 P68 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

After co-translating Cees Nooteboom's The Captain of the Butterflies and co-writing a monograph on Czeslaw Milosz, Nathan returns to poetry with this collection of self-revealing, hermetic little lyrics, which have been appearing regularly in the New Yorker and elsewhere. They offer the sort of wry vignettes and homilies that only a distinguished, late-career poet can pull off, such as "Minna," who "Hired herself out to a man/ who needed a shave and took, it seems,/ certain kinds of photographs." Three stanzas later, "When things improved, Minna became a good,/ if ironic wife." One must check a certain feminist consciousness at the door of this and other poems ("Sweet is pure disinterest, sweeter/ even than the sweetness of syrup/ spun in cream, almost as sweet/ as love spun in young bodies"), but for the most part, Nathan's twinkle will be encouragement enough. Some poems, such as "In the Woods"‘a 12-line account of the Goldilocks story from the perspective of the little bear‘are a little too transparent. In other cases, however, Nathan's directness pays dividends, as in the collection's opening lines, "Sometimes, the naked taste of potato/ Reminds me of being poor.// The first bites are gratitude,/ the rest, contented boredom." While not additive enough to read cover-to-cover, Nathan's knowing courtings of cliché yield lovely chance enounters: "Is that you? It can't be you. It's a ghost./ And are those roses real? Real yes and red." (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

"Sometimes, the naked taste of potato/ reminds me of being poor./ The first bites are gratitude,/ the rest, contented boredom." Nathan is a poet of simple lyrics that are deceptive in their depth. They are not ambitious but built in quiet, unassuming lines that follow one step at a time to some high place, some greater, more wondrous perspective. Remembering his youth, he writes, "Never again was my father so angry,/ my mother so still as she set the table,/ or I so much at home." It is not difficult for the reader to feel at home in these poems, whether they speak of that simple childhood in a language as subtle as that of folk stories or leaps of, and into, faith. These are wise poems that take the reader along with them, rather than pointing the way; and the further the reader travels, the more familiar everything seems: "no end it seems to leaving home, to coming home." Recommended for all contemporary poetry collections.‘Louis McKee, Painted Bride Arts Ctr., Philadelphia (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One THE POTATO EATERS Sometimes, the naked taste of potato reminds me of being poor. The first bites are gratitude, the rest, contented boredom. The little kitchen still flickers like a candle-lit room in a folktale. Never again was my father so angry, my mother so still as she set the table, or I so much at home. IN THE WOODS Night, and a candle guttering on the table. Three low stools. Father spoons his mush, growling just a little now. Mother intently watches her men. Am I the only one who hears the cry, sees the scared girl stumbling on through the dark and dripping woods, hungry, cold? But yellow hair, so not our kind. Speech beyond us still, we growl softly, nuzzle, and--our claws retracted--stroke. Father scrapes the bowl. Mother, rising, sighs me far away and lost. ALCHEMIST As in the cartoon the vengeful fat boy with thick glasses mixes chemicals secretly in a test tube while his innocent parents call him to dinner, so I mix and mixed even before I owned my first chemistry set, mixed hope with disbelief, dream with what was no dream, mixed childish love with the loneliness of grownups, and still I mix, now the courage of others with my fear, their kindness with my desire, their clarity with my cloudy, brown confusion, mix and taste, mix and taste each new potion--this time perhaps ... Gone is the beautiful glass city of retort and beaker, crystal chambers crushed under seventy-seven layers of failure, and gone, too, the hope of golden transmutation, but still I mix, requiring now only the base matter of being human, rusty blood of a used heart, gray mush of a warmed-over brain, and the fat boy's autistic need-- elixir that would make everything as it was before, simple and warm, timeless and good, however bitter the brew, however bitterly fatal to the system. Copyright © 1999 Leonard Nathan. All rights reserved.