Anne-Marie Oomen is author of Pulling Down the Barn and House of Fields (Wayne State UP), both Michigan Notable Books, and Un-coded Woman (Milkweed Editions); two chapbooks of poetry, Seasons of the Sleeping Bear and Moniker (with Ray Nargis), and is a featured poet in New Poems of the Third Coast: Contemporary Michigan Poetry. An American Map a new collection of essays, is forthcoming. She has written many plays, including award-winning Northern Belles and serves as instructor of Creative Writing at Interlochen Arts Academy and at the Solstice MFA at Pine Manor College. She and her husband, David Early, have built their own home in Empire, Michigan where they live with a large cat named Walt Whitman.
Country People Face the Dry Spring
We’ve owned that west ten since we married,
but because it’s wet and thickety, you’ve
been out there more than me,
what with your hunting and antsy ways.
Now, dry spring. The elder neighbors,
Clare and Cyril, worrying about their hand-dug well,
remember an old homestead out there,
burned during the drought of ’38.
Perhaps there’s water. Though what
we’ll do to make it matter is what I wonder,
and you mutter that those old wells
silted in like melted butter years ago.
Under a dead apple tree we find the proof,
lone rhubarb plant—its umbrella leaves
spreading above damp grass like dark fog. We stare
at its bravery, its rose-colored will,
and bicker over how long this thing has lived
here in acidic earth and we did not know—
we who thought we knew the land,
we who must be sharp as whittled sticks.
You claim a century, but I, I am leaning
toward a kind of immortality, a stock
measured in millennium. Yes, I claim,
this one root was carried over from China
or Russia by Siberian traders, and look,
it survives even now, and will go on and on,
and don’t give me that look,
I know the well’s all done in,
but we’ve got some early rhubarb.
Together we cut the stems,
touching each briefly to our tongues,
tasting this tart spring, astringent kiss
before carrying the whole mess
back to the kitchen where, with winter syrup
and some early strawberries—
though they’re not required—the tart
is what you want—we cook it
down to sauce, call Cyril and Clare,
sit out on the back stoop, tasting the tonic
of these hard years,
the sour made short
and brief between us, sweetened
by, yes, the lost wells, dry spells, long will,
the lengths of time we cannot know.