The Rhubarb Patch

By Laurel Mills

Every spring it claims more yard, edging toward
the clothesline. I sit on our front porch,
think of hiss against my teeth if I bit into that
tart flesh. We kids consider rhubarb common, prefer
sweet asparagus that grows in feathery opulence.
Where we live, on the hill, we can choose
one over another. But there are neighbors below
who need rhubarb to feed a hungry June.
They come, invited by my father, cut stalks
close to the ground. I hear snap of knife
against stem, find umbrella tops left to nourish
next year’s crop. The neighbors, some smelling of rank
houses, frighten me, but I love the sight
of them bent in tired housedresses, thinning the rhubarb.
Some carry salt in apron pockets and, once in a while,
sprinkle it along a concave middle, bite into sour.
My mouth puckers, knowing my father
will encourage me to chew into a stalk
because it is good for you. This is how we live.
Father’s factory-bent hands tie string around rhubarb
for the man from down the hill who keeps pigs
behind a fence the town made him put up. His house
has a dirt floor, but Father doesn’t judge these things.
Instead, while Mother is baking in the kitchen,
he snips asparagus for the man, tucks
this sweet surprise inside the bitter bundle.