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Poet Farmers
by John Warner


Ruthie saw them first, shading her eyes with a hand and pointing at a group kicking up dust along the front drive. Capes flapped behind as they walked and each one of them clutched a wire notebook and pen. "Shit damn," Ruthie said to Roy, "looks like we got poets."

The leader, pale and pointy nosed, scooped up a handful of dirt and breathed it in deeply before dumping it inside the folds of his cape. "Show us your world, there is poetry here," he said, as the others muttered and surrounded Ruthie, gauging her thighs.

"Like oak," one said.

"No, granite," from another, and it looked like there was going to be a dust up until one got too close and Ruthie slapped a grabbing hand from the hem of her dress.

Ruthie flashed the back of her hand at those poets and looked at Roy and said, "Well Roy, I guess you should show’em what they're after."

The poets’ capes gently swayed, windless and limp as they stalked the new John Deere. One frowned as he picked at the hard, enamel paint while others climbed into the cab and shuddered from the blare of Hank Jr. on the CD player. Roy showed them the cool ease of the power steering, the air conditioning and the fully electronic, adjustable seat. When Roy cranked the engine, the poets scattered from the pistons’ howl.

"Bunch a hens," Roy spat. He thought for a moment that he might've gotten rid of those poets, but as he headed back toward the house, he heard the murmur of their capes as they regrouped behind him.

Ruthie sat them around the kitchen for some of her countywide famous black-raspberry tarts and naturally sweetened ice tea, but there was nary a nibble or sip, and it looked for awhile like those poets were about ready to move on when one of them spied the weathered planks of the old barn.

"Over there!" he shouted.

And as they ran toward the barn they bellowed, "Show us the cracked hide of old mule straps and the blunted blade of the once keen plow! Show us the toil and the drought, the struggle against soil! Show us poetry!" Ruthie looked at Roy and Roy looked at Ruthie and they both shrugged, but they were glad for their once again empty kitchen, and so they let the poets pour over those rusty things.

After a couple of months some left, notebooks bulging, but still more came seeking their muse. They were, for sure, a nuisance. For awhile Ruthie and Roy considered their alternatives: a good herbicide, the National Guard or some local toughs brought round after one too many, maybe, but nothing seemed quite right until one night, Ruthie and Roy had this conversation:



"You remember our dream Roy?"

"Oh yeah."

"The Princess Royal Ultra Luxury Cruise Line, twelve days and eleven nights, nights that are preceded by dazzling sunsets and end with us exhausted from dancing, drinking and good cheer. You remember that, right Roy?"

"Twenty-four hour a day cabin boys named Hector or Lars, honey."

"You remember what it said the pool-side drinks tasted like Roy?"

"I believe it was Nectar. Sun-drenched nectar, topped with honey, honey."

And at this point Ruthie paused for a moment as she ran her hand down Roy’s arm and made every single hair on his whole body stand straight up. For that moment, Roy marveled at how Ruthie could do that even after their many years of marriage.

"We’re farmers, aren’t we Roy?"

"Oh yeah, we’re farmers all right."

"And the beans, Roy?"

"Bad year for beans Ruthie."

Ruthie smiled, smiled more seductively than you might imagine and said, "Well I know something we got too much of, Roy." And that night Roy surely did enjoy Ruthie’s iron thighs.

They had acres of poets buried navel deep. Rows and rows of them always stocked with notebooks and pens and kept fat on fried chicken, squash, whole milk, and Mars Bars. Nights, while Ruthie and Roy dreamed of Caribbean vistas, those poets slept, covered with their capes.

But the first crop was no good, bad enjambment, thoughtless stanza breaks and cliches crept across them like blight, and Roy and Ruthie were about to give up on those poets as a problem they could not crack, and with it their life-long dream of cruising the Caribbean, but then Ruthie and Roy had another conversation:


"Yeah, honey?"

"You remember what Wittgenstein used to say, Roy?"

"Seems to me he said a lot of things."

"What I’m thinking of is this particular thing, and you stop me if I’m wrong, Roy: ‘The riddle does not exist. If a question can be put at all, then it can also be answered.’"

"You’re not wrong, honey. Now why don’t you stop fiddling with that poetry nonsense and come over here so we can share our love."

And that night, Ruthie did as she was asked, gladly.

So they switched the poets to a diet of citrus fruits, bean sprouts, the occasional organ meat or lean veal cutlet with a dry, white sherry for a nightcap, and soon enough the yield started getting better.

Roy gathered the sheets of paper from the fields and rubbed Ruthie's shoulders as she typed them up, polished the metaphors and fixed some other rough spots:

"You remember what else Wittgenstein said, Roy?"

"Are you thinking of, ‘Everything that can be said, can be said clearly,’ honey?"

"I am Roy."

"I clearly love you, my sweet sweet Ruthie Ann," Roy said.

And soon enough they had a bumper crop and a real New York agent named Silverberg and the critics almost tripped over their tongues they were so fat with praise. Just last week Silverberg gave Ruthie and Roy the word that they’d won an honest to goodness Pulitzer Prize. A Pulitzer prize! A Pulitzer prize, which even Roy and Ruthie know is a pretty big deal. So Ruthie went off cape shopping to prepare for a full twelve days and eleven nights of leaving all cares behind, while Roy, Roy is checking with Ted from next door to see if he'll take a few stray sonnets as pay to look after the fields while he and Ruthie cruise.

And Ted, while Ted believes quite firmly in being neighborly, he’s still thinking that he’ll have to hold out for a suite of sestinas, perhaps about the rain and how it sounds when it strikes the roofs of farmhouses, old tin barns, or waving blades of field grass.





About the Author


Have an M.A. in English Literature and and M.F.A. in Creative Writing from McNeese St. University, where I studied with 1993 Pulitzer Prize winner, Robert Olen Butler. I am a Contributing Editor to McSweeney's Quarterly, with stories appearing in issues #3, #4 and #6. My work has also appeared in Salon, Business 2.0, TV Guide, and Dezmin's Archives. Co-author (with Kevin Guilfoile) of: My First Presidentiary: A Scrapbook of George W. Bush, presented by Crown/Three Rivers and Modern Humorist. Our purely vanity web site can be found here.