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The Veggie Life

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Cabbages, beans and bell peppers vie
for the glossy centerfold of Nature's Hand

where this month the vulgar Hubbard squash
reclines with succotash of questionable origin.

I've grown to prize passivity; I've learned the word
"vegetable" comes from Medieval Latin—

vegetabilis, and vegetare which means "to animate, to grow,"
though I can think of half a dozen ways to squander

an afternoon as Destry Rides Again, Dietrich and Stewart...
and my doctor friend Lenny who calls to tell me

that broccoli has a nervous system, that it suffers
when you pick it. If form follows function,

it stands to reason that pain is the fate of all "brainy" things—
cauliflower, coral and raspberry clumps, the florets that sizzle

in my spiced tahini. I've heard potatoes
described as "thuggy and plotless," but never "aristocratic"

as it says on page seven's "The Stately Spud,"
where tubers possess an enviable pedigree,

popular back to 4000 b.c. when Incas made urns
in the shape of russets—

long reds, round reds and Yukon Golds,
best for sautéing, excellent in frittatas.

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for ambition,
but some days I'd rather steep in my own kettle.

Give me chamomile, cowboys, cornelian cherries.
Let me sink, once again, into purposeless sleep.

Source: Poetry

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This poem originally appeared in the September 2000 issue of Poetry magazine

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The Veggie Life

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  • Poet Michael Steffen earned a BS in business management at Empire State College and an MFA in creative writing at Vermont College. His poems often dwell in an emotional landscape marked by plain speech, quick turns, and wry humor. Steffen’s poetry collections include No Good at Sea (2002) and Heart Murmur (2009), which was chosen for the Bordighera Poetry Prize by Michael Palma and published in a bilingual edition with Italian translation by Paolo Ruffilli.

    Steffen has won the Legible Press Poetry Prize, the Alsop Review Poetry Prize, and the Pennsylvania Poetry Society’s Cecilia Parsons Miller Award, as well as a fellowship from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. From 1996 to 2002, Steffen hosted the Riverside Reading Series in Eaton, Pennsylvania. He lives in Roseto, Pennsylvania.

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