for Jean Follain
Here we have Idaho, monsieur Follain,
a mountainous American province known—
famous, as a matter of fact—for its potatoes:
les pommes de terre célèbre! Less so, its poets.
You likely never heard of it, O brother in poems
and more, meaning, of course, les pommes
de terre, which, yes, my home state is famous for.
But alas, your Célébration de la pomme de terre,
out of print in France, has never appeared en anglais,
and I have spent most of a frustrating day
trying to procure it en français, and have failed.
The problem seems to be having it mailed
trans-oceanically. The seller will send it gladly
to any nation in Europe, but not to l’États Unis.
Pardon my French, my pomme de terre patois:
there’s tater and spud, but nothing with such sang-froid
as apple of the earth, earth apple, a little figure,
a tiny poem tinier even than the tiniest of yours,
the tart apples of your verses, your other, better love
than potatoes, peut-être? And yet, I must have,
I confess, the potato book, and have therefore pressed
a fluent francophone colleague into service,
who has had it sent to a friend in Belgium, from thence so
on to me, here in America, here in Idaho.
Why? Because, like you, I love—no, j’adore
les pommes de terre almost as much as I adore
your poems: the child with the wild red hair,
the thousand year rain, the peace that decays forever.
Here, monsieur Follain, we have the potato
in such quantity that the singular state of Idaho
grows all the frites françaises McDonald’s ever sells,
our gift to the chef de cuisine of that culinary hell.
Although, I confess, I love French fries too,
and perhaps, with your book, I’ll find that so did you,
who may at last make clear to me what a potato is worth—
famous potatoes, mere potatoes, poems of the earth.
The yellow pines thrash their manes
and rear. You can almost hear
beneath their stationary hooves
the billion root-hairs clench and click,
the nicker and neigh, the nowhere wind
goes by on the way to nowhere else,
bringing joy and hysteria to the trees.
In the interludes between gusts
they shuffle and sway then stand
almost immobile in the downpour
of shed needles—at last only a single
branch bobbing like a twitched flank,
then stillness, the sound of what was
fading in the east, the sound of what’s coming
coming nearer from the west. They grow
restive. They wait until it comes
and gallop in their stillness again.
Burgdorf Hot Springs, Perseids, August, 1982
There was no moon that night, and the moose
might have thought that we, naked and heeled together
on our innertubes, were a pair of gigantic lily pads.
Then he came through the left-open gate
and clomped along the wooden walkway toward us.
His antlers shed shadows halfway across the pool.
When he leaped into the five-foot middle depths,
he cast a wave that nearly capsized us
but paid us no mind at all, thrashing out
and scampering in the cold toward our towels.
Instead, he plunged his head again and again
into the hot water and flung from his horns
enormous starlit hafts of droplets shimmering,
while we shivered in our towels but could not not
watch him there, now at the farthest, deepest end,
the water barely reaching his withers. He blew
three blasts of breath from his flues and at last clambered out
at the meadow end, stepping over a yard-high fence
as though it were a city curb. He stood
in the starlight then, steam rising from him
like a cape of diaphanous tulle, before he walked
into the meadow itself, among the grazing elk
we’d been listening to for an hour,
and we dropped our towels and made our way
back to the innertubes and stayed several hours more,
making love once, counting seventy-three meteors,
nine bull elk bugles, six cow barks, one moose.
Photo of yellow pines in morning sunlight courtesy Shutterstock.