The Potato Man - Poem by Sophia White
The wind was a torrent of darkness across the potato fields.
The moon was the only witness, a sliver as cold as steel.
The road was a ribbon of moonlight, tread by a moonlit thief,
Who came a-hunting potatoes –
Potatoes – potatoes –
Who came a-hunting potatoes, baring potato-hued teeth.
He’d a greedy scowl on his fore’ead, a greedy drool on his chin,
A coat that smelled of potato, and breeches of potato skin.
They fitted with many a wrinkle – in which potatoes could hide –
And he came with an ancient shovel,
A sturdy, trusty shovel,
A thief and an ancient shovel, under an ancient sky.
Then in the darkness he paused, and smiled at a glimmer of moonlight,
At the glimmer of another shovel, bouncing at shoulder height.
He whistled a tune to the shovel, and who should whistle back
But the potato farmer’s daughter,
Tess, the farmer’s daughter,
Plaiting a brown potato peel into her hair, long and black.
And dark in the dark potato field, the foursome set to work,
Two shovels and two lovers, while the hired-hand and his pitchfork
Watched with eyes of madness, and smelled of moldy hay,
For the hired-hand loved the farmgirl,
The beautiful, red-lipped farmgirl,
And dumb as a dog he listened, and heard the robber say –
“One kiss, my bonny sweetheart, I’m after a prize tonight!
I’ll find a potato worth yellow gold before the morning light.
And if I find it quickly, I’ll cook it during the day,
Then look for me by the moonlight,
Watch for me by the moonlight,
I’ll come to thee by the moonlight, bearing potato soufflé!
He rose upright with his shovel, and plunged it into the earth,
And she tied up her hair with a potato peel, chuckling fit to burst.
As the bright cascade of laughter came tumbling out of her mouth,
He found the potato in the moonlight!
(Oh, giant potato in the moonlight!)
Then he threw his shovel o’er his shoulder and jogged away to the south.
He did not come in dawning, he did not come at noon,
But after the tawny sunset, after the rise o’ the moon,
When the road was a gypsy’s ribbon through the potato field,
The farmer’s girl was waiting –
Waiting – waiting –
The farmer’s Tess was waiting in the potato field.
She’d said goodnight to her father, laid down her pretty head,
But soon’s she heard him snoring, she leaped out of her narrow bed,
And slipped like a wraith through the casement, her shovel at her side,
And now she sat ‘mongst the potatoes,
Their precious, precious potatoes,
And Tess could see in the distance the road that he would hike.
Then suddenly out of the darkness, a familiar figure appeared,
Brandishing the giant potato and raising a lofty cheer:
“You kept good watch! ” and he kissed her, she heard her robber say –
“You looked for me by the moonlight,
Watched for me by the moonlight,
I came to thee by moonlight, the potato on my tray! ”
She twisted her hands behind her – the potato looked oh! So good!
She wiped her hands on her skirt to rid them of dirt and mud.
They stretched and strained in the darkness, the seconds crawled by like years,
Till now on the stroke of midnight,
Hot on the stroke of midnight,
The tip of one finger touched it! The potato at last was hers!
The tip of one finger touched it, she strove yet more for the rest,
Then – Up went the thief to attention, a pitchfork at his chest!
He’d stolen potatoes for many a year; he would not steal again,
For the pitchfork flashed in the moonlight,
Flashed so cruel in the moonlight
And struck the thief in the moonlight, and the deed was done.
Tess stood frozen by the body, shedding not a tear,
The hired-hand’s vict’ry cry ringing in her ears.
Ringing o’er the potato field, ringing o’er the hills,
But Tess still held the potato –
Potato – potato –
Oh, Tess still held the potato! She stood up straight and still.
The steam rose in the frosty silence! The steam rose in the echoing night!
Closer she crept, and closer! Her face was like a light.
Her eyes grew wide for a moment, she drew one great deep breath,
Then her hands moved quick in the moonlight,
Her hands flashed in the moonlight,
And shoved the potato in the moonlight down the murderer’s throat!
The potato burned his insides, burned as hot as the sun.
He grasped his smoking stomach, but the deed was a’ready done.
He fell to the ground moaning, his face ghostly white.
Thus the farmer’s hired-hand,
The potato farmer’s hired-hand,
Killed the robber dead in the moonlight, then died by the robber’s soufflé.
Away Tess ran like a madman, shrieking a curse to the sky,
With the hired-hand smoking behind her, her robber-love at his side.
Blood red were her eyes in the gold moon, wine-red were her rosebud lips,
When she fell on her shovel in the potato field,
And it pierced her heart in the potato field,
And she lay in her blood in the potato field, her “trusty” shovel at her side.
And still of a winter’s night, they say, out in the potato fields,
With the moon as the only witness, a sliver as cold as steel,
When the road is a ribbon of moonlight, two shovels come a-digging
A-digging up potatoes –
Potatoes – potatoes –
A-digging up potatoes in the potato field.
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