The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®


Jim Daniels

Potato Skins


Steam rose from broken skins

like sentimental music


none of us played or sang

or even hummed in our house.


If my father was home, we said grace.

If he wasn’t, silence sufficed.


Our deaf grandmother could’ve

broke our hearts if she hadn’t

cut so many farts.


She curled into prayer

like a humped turtle surrounded

by mad lambs of God.




I breathed in steam, the off-

white flesh, the brief tangled

substance of heat.

Margarine passed in ritual

agitation as things

quickly cooled.


Love’s harsh mirage dissipated

as we bumped elbows and squirmed

around the tiny table, three of us

squeezed on the long bench

against the wall like panelists

on a cancelled game show.




It was the skins we loved, rough

jackets pocketed with melted

margarine so when we bit, yellow

spilled down our chins, five children,

my mother, my grandmother, and my



Meatloaf and baked potatoes.

God and all of his incarnations.

Body and blood. Carnal communion.

So what if we called it butter

and forgot to wipe our chins.




Give us this day our daily sacrilege.

Why didn’t we have hymns?
Why didn’t we believe in grace?


Because we were blessed.

Someone had scrubbed the earth off

those potatoes, their odd lumpy faces.


We stopped kicking each other

under the table. We didn’t laugh

at grandma. Hunger crouched beneath us,

hoping for scraps—dream on, hunger.

We put our faces in the steam

and we wept.




JIM DANIELS' latest book is Rowing Inland, Wayne State University Press. Forthcoming books include Street Calligraphy and The Middle Ages. A native of Detroit, he is the Baker University Professor of English at Carnegie Mellon University. His author page is: 



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