Friday, July 11, 2014

Poetry Friday -- Chicory

by John Updike

Show me a piece of land that God forgot—
a strip between an unused sidewalk, say,
and a bulldozed lot, rich in broken glass—
and there, July on, will be chicory,

its leggy hollow stems staggering skyward,
its leaves rough-hairy and lanceolate,
like pointed shoes too cheap for elves to wear,
its button-blooms the tenderest mauve-blue.

How good of it to risk the roadside fumes,
the oil-soaked heat reflected from asphalt,
and wretched earth dun-colored like cement,
too packed for any other seed to probe.

It sends a deep taproot (delicious, boiled),
is relished by all livestock, lends its leaves
to salads and cooked greens, but will not thrive
in cultivated soil: it must be free.

I love chicory. Mostly for its blueness, but also for its love of freedom. Maybe that's why I picked it for my poetry website, which I killed and brought back to life again here. It is a work in progress.

I just realized about an hour ago that today is Friday. Summer and travel will do that to you.

Linda has the Poetry Friday roundup at Write Time.


  1. I love your chicory too, and alongside roads in Missouri is flax, similar color, useful as well. Thanks for the poem, Mary Lee. It's new to me, and lovely to see about something so with us, yet Updike makes it special, doesn't he? Glad you remembered about Friday!

  2. Wonderful poem. My favorite line is "like pointed shoes too cheap for elves to wear," Can't you just see it? I'm not sure we have this flower down south.

  3. Anonymous6:41 PM

    I love this poem! And chickory, too. Beautiful photo.

  4. Such a lovely poem, Mary Lee. From the first line to the last, the imagery is perfect!

  5. Anonymous8:52 PM

    I love how Updike celebrates this flower, "its button-blooms the tenderest mauve-blue" risking "roadside fumes" and the "dun-colored" earth to share its beauty with the world. Thanks for sharing!

  6. I haven't seen this Updike poem before. I'm going to save it for re-reading. Thanks, Mary Lee.

  7. I love seeing these by the roadside, too - so brave, and so free!

  8. There really is a poem about everything, isn't there. This is really beautiful! I think it would be fun to use it as a mentor text.

  9. Enjoy your roadside freedom, Mary Lee, like the chicory! Thanks so much for sharing.

  10. Some great words in that poem: bulldozed, rough-hairy, lanceolate, wretched. Thanks for unearthing this one, Mary Lee!

  11. I had no idea that the same chicory I think of as food has such gorgeous button-blue, pointed-shoe flowers! Guess that comes with not being a very good gardener. Glad you're bringing your poetry blog back to life. :)

  12. "Show me a strip of land that God forgot" So true about chicory, and that blue...Oh my. I'm a fan of chicory, too.

    Its blossoms are a marker for me of the changing summer. Just at the moment when summer seems most powerful, chicory blooms; its blueness seems to tilt summer a bit toward fall and the asters. Funny how the heat of summer can contain in it just a bit of cool. Thank you!


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