The Vegetables

By James McMichael b. 1939 James McMichael
The Artichoke

She bore only the heart,   
Worked at the stem with her   
Fingers, pulling it to her,   
And into her, like a cord.

She would sustain him,   
Would cover his heart.   
The hairy needles
And the bigger leaves,

These she licked into shape,   
Tipping each with its point.   
He is the mud-flower,
The thorny hugger.

The Asparagus

She sent packs of great beasts to pass
Over him, trailing belly-fur and dust,   
Bending their nostrils to his frail spear.   
This was to toughen him. For what?   
Stupidly, like a squirrel, standing up,   
Looking here and there, looking to all sides,

He is cut down and taken away.
She can smell him steaming, his crowns   
Already tender, his spine giving in.
Now he is threatening to wither terribly,   
And slip from the water altogether,
And billow through the kitchen like prayer.

The Cauliflower

Her words clot in his head.
He presses himself to remember   
And feels the skin peel back,
The skull bleach, crack, fall away.

All that's left of him is the brain,
Its tissue knotting up to shade him,   
The pain of its light pulsing
How to move, how to move.


Before fog leaves the scrub-oak
Or the grasses of the downland,
Take dragonwort under the black alder,   
Take cockspur grass and henbane,   
The belladonna, the deadly nightshade.   
Free them as you would a spider's web,   
Singing over them: Out, little wen,
                            Out, little wen.
Sing this into the mouth of the woman.


I am the corn quail.   
What I do is quick.   
You will know only   
The muffled clucking,   
The scurry, the first   
Shiver of feathers   
And I will be up,   
I will be in your
Head with no way out,   
Wings beating at the   
Air behind your eyes.


The hope with   
water is that it
will conceal nothing,

that a clearness
will follow upon it   
like the clearness   
after much rain,

or the clearness   
where the air   
reaches to the river
and touches it,

where the rain   
falls from the trees   
into the river.

Bell Pepper

To find enough rooms for the gathering   
The walls go on alone not waiting   
For corners but thinking of sleeves
And how the wind fills them and the snow   
Fills them and how cold it is without   
Fires when there are not enough rooms.


It had been growing in her like vegetables.   
She was going into the ground where it could   
Do better, where she could have potatoes.

They would be small and easily mistaken   
For stones. It would fall to her to   
Sort them out, persuade them to stay

Close to her, comforting her, letting her   
Wear them on her body, in her hair,   
Helping her hold always very still.

James McMichael, “The Vegetables” from The World At Large: New and Selected Poems (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1996). Copyright © 1996 by James L. McMichael. Reprinted with the permission of the author.

Source: Poetry (November 1970).


This poem originally appeared in the November 1970 issue of Poetry magazine

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November 1970


Born in Pasadena, California, poet James McMichael earned a BA at the University of California, Santa Barbara and a PhD at Stanford University, where he studied with Yvor Winters.
In his early work, McMichael frequently made use of long, sometimes paragraph-length, poetic lines; in more recent work, his lines and stanzas have followed a precise, variegated structure. Describing his invented form of varied stanza and line . . .

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SUBJECT Eating & Drinking, Gardening, Activities


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