Loyal readers (if indeed I do actually have any) may recall me mentioning in a previous post back in May a couple of good friends of mine, the very talented poet Curt Curtin and his wife Dee O’ Connor. In the last few months, they generously helped me put together my first real book of poetry, a still yet unpublished chapbook entitled The Farmer’s Son (I have been writing poetry for over fifty years, and believe it or not, this is my first attempt to gather together a volume of my poems for actual publication). Today I would like to share with you the title poem of this collection.
I am not sure if I can claim this poem written about my father Winslow Szlosek, who passed away 26 years ago last month, is the best one I ever written, but definitely my most award-winning and most published as well as a personal favorite, It won first place in The Landmark’s annual poetry contest in 1998, and as I understand one of the reasons why I was awarded the Jacob Knight Poetry Prize in 2001. The poem was subsequently published in Sahara (2001), The Randolph Herald (2018) and numerous times online. Here it is:
The Farmer’s Son
On a certain June evening,
unable to descend
into the shadowy depths of sleep,
I find myself back
in the back of a pickup truck,
seven years old and pining away
for the Saturday morning cartoons
I’ll be missing.
My mom’s at the wheel,
steering the old Ford
down the rock infested path
to the potato field.
My two sisters are already there,
so eager to begin, they are digging
with their bare hands, the soil accumulating
in back quarter moons at the tips of their nails.
And my dad, he’s perched high in the seat of the John Deere
staring straight ahead, as steel fingers
rake the earth behind him.
It’s our job to walk these trenches,
trying to tell the dirt-encrusted spuds from stones,
dropping our bounty in to burlap feed bags
slung over our shoulders.
I do not care to be here,
laboring under the morning sun.
I do not care for potatoes
except for their names:
Kennebec, Catawba, Green Mountain,
names too exotic, too divine
for such bland-tasting fleshy tubers.
I believe they are really the names
of foreign kingdoms,
lands of of untold wonders.
I am the farmer’s son,
but not a good one.
I am, by nature, an indoor child
grown pasty by the blue light
of the television screen,
a pale boy who prefers
school work to farm work,
who withers and faints
while picking string beans
in the summer heat.
My dad conceals his disappointment
in a son who does not share
his love for the land
he has toiled for his entire life.
Yet somehow he understands
and tries not to push me so hard.
Perhaps he recognizes
I am not a crop to be cultivated,
but more like a weed
which must spread its roots
wherever it pleases to survive.
And now once again,
it’s thirty years in the future,
the path I chose, led
not to the potato field,
but this cramped city apartment
where I lie in an unmade bed,
trying to come to grips
with the passing of my father,
harvesting longings and regrets.
It is soul, not soil
I dig through now
and what I uncover may not be
as comforting as potatoes.
—Paul Szlosek (originally published in The Landmark)
Thank you so much for reading, I hope you enjoyed my poem “The Farmer’s Son”. As a bonus (or perhaps a punishment?) for those readers who may be curious what I look and sound like now, please click here for a video of me reading it out loud.