The Potato

Three days into the journey
I lost the Inca Trail
and scrambled around the Andes 
in a growing panic
when on a hillside below snowline
I met a farmer who pointed the way—
Machu Picchu allá, he said. 
He knew where I wanted to go. 
From my pack I pulled out an orange.
It seemed to catch fire 
in that high blue Andean sky. 
I gave it to him.
He had been digging in a garden, 
turning up clumps of earth, 
some odd, misshapen nuggets, 
some potatoes.
He handed me one,
a potato the size of the orange
looking as if it had been in the ground
a hundred years,
a potato I carried with me 
until at last I stood gazing down 
on the Urubamba valley, 
peaks rising out of the jungle into clouds, 
and there among the mists 
was the Temple of the Sun
and the Lost City of the Incas.
Looking back now, all these years later,
what I remember most, 
what matters to me most, 
was that farmer, alone on his hillside, 
who gave me a potato,
a potato with its peasant face, 
its lumps and lunar craters, 
a potato that fit perfectly in my hand, 
a potato that consoled me as I walked, 
told me not to fear, 
held me close to the earth,
the potato I put in a pot that night,
the potato I boiled above Machu Picchu,
the patient, gnarled potato 
I ate. 

From Country of Light by Joseph Stroud. Copyright © 2004 Joseph Stroud. Used with permission of Copper Canyon Press. All rights reserved.