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Sweet Potatoes by Mukund Nair

If you align the stones in the makeshift mud oven just right, If you catch the flame just right, The potatoes roast themselves. The old uncle says as he bends over, supervising the roasting, The sweet potatoes dance a slow waltz in the yellow flame ballroom, And you just can’t wait for your bite, You are mostly all 10- your group of the town hooligans, The uncle isn’t your own, He isn’t even an uncle. But an old man hasn’t got time to test bloodlines, Children need no lineage to love, So you flock around him every Sunday, He lights the oven, you bring the potatoes, Like tributary kings at their chief court, And you talk of school, of toys you have and that which you crave, of music and dreams and festival lists, You look around at your companions, all aglow with hunger, A doe-eyed girl that has a mother who cries to sleep, A shy smiling boy who has none at all, Another girl picks lies and lice from her school fellows, One boy has a father who would rather swing belts than wear them, And you, You have that nagging fear of what happens when you must work like your Father, How tired you must become, how much play you must miss…. And yet when the potatoes arrive, Scarlet and sizzling, everyone smiles. Time soon passes, The group passes on to higher tasks, The uncle passes away, You leave town to achieve meaning, Your father is farther than ever before, And you don’t know when you’ll go home, And you realise how Hope is a lot like roasted sweet potatoes, You mustn’t bite in early- you might burn your tongue, You must juggle it, till it can be held without pain, And the first real bite always seems the sweetest, And it all comes to you only after fire. You return to your town, it is changed, Children don’t adopt old men anymore, And sharing is a hassle people are better off without, Yet in the middle of the market, You see a woman with doe eyes, bargaining her tongue off, And when she sees you, she smiles, And when you notice her cloth bag…. you see sweet potatoes, Like pink reminders of memories long gone and well held, And that is when you smile back.

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