The Rhubarb Route

May 17, 2019

Today’s poem is “The Rhubarb Route” by Wesley McNair. Wes was Maine’s fourth poet laureate and is the author of ten books of poems, most recently The Unfastening. He’s currently professor emeritus and Writer in Residence at the University of Maine Farmington, where he directed the creative writing program for many years.

He writes, "Every spring I used to take gifts of rhubarb from my patch to the old timers in my town who knew what it was and what to do with it. But a couple of years ago, I had to give up my rhubarb route because all my customers were gone. Then I realizedI could write a poem about it and go on my route once again."

The Rhubarb Route
by Wesley McNair

On a spring evening in between the black fly season
and the first mosquitoes, as the red stems lift
their broad leaves like scores of tilted umbrellas,
I call them on the telephone of my mind and drive
bagfuls of rhubarb down through the town, past
the white revenants of the Grange Hall and the closed
library, past the house lots and the treeless modulars
where they have no use for rhubarb, turning at last into
a wide driveway while little Herman, alive as anyone,
comes out of his old farmhouse with his chesty walk
to take two bags inside to Faye, enough for a whole
year of pies and red jello cobblers, then drive the back
way along the river, by the oaks and sumacs gathering
the shadows of twilight, to swing in beside the dead
school bus of True’s cowless farm and see old Billy,
before his legs gave out, who loved rhubarb almost
as much as his long-lost mother, take the biggest bag
of it into his arms and carry it up the steps of his porch,
leaning on the rail to wave goodbye. Goodbye to Billy,
goodbye to little Herman, goodbye to the Gagnons,
who laugh in the deepening dusk about eating sticks
of rhubarb right from the patch as kids, goodbye
to my old neighbor Ethlyn in the house on the corner,
empty for two years, who all the same calls out
Hello from somewhere inside when I knock, Hello,
I’m here, and suddenly she is here next to me behind
the screen, smiling because I’ve remembered her again
on this spring evening with fresh rhubarb, which
she holds up to her face, breathing it in with a long
breath, before she turns and goes back into the dark.

Poem copyright © 2017 Wesley McNair. Reprinted from The Unfastening, David R. Godine, Publisher, 2017, by permission of the publisher.