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Poet Farmers

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Ruthie saw them first.

She shaded her eyes with a hand and pointed at the dust kicking up along the front drive. Capes flapped behind as they walked and each one of them clutched a spiral 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 looked at Roy and said, "Well, Roy, I guess you should show 'em what they're after."

The poets' capes limply fluttered as they stalked the new John Deere. One frowned as he picked at the hard enamel while others climbed into the cab and shuddered at 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.

"Buncha 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 their murmuring as they regrouped behind him.

Ruthie sat them around the kitchen for some of her famous black-raspberry tarts and iced tea, but there was nary a nibble or sip. It looked 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 pore over the rusty things.

After a couple of months some finally left, notebooks bulging, but others came, seeking their muse. Ruthie and Roy considered their alternatives for eradicating the pest: 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, they had an idea:

"Roy?"

"Yeah?"

"You remember our dream, Roy?"

"Oh yeah."

"The Princess Royal Ultra Luxury Cruise Line, 12 days and 11 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 poolside drinks tasted like, Roy?"

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

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. 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, 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 stoked with notebooks and pens and kept fat on fried chicken, squash, whole milk, and Mars Bars. Days, the poets cranked out verse. Nights, while Ruthie and Roy dreamed of evening strolls on the deck, those poets slept, covered with their capes.

The first crop was no good: bad enjambment, thoughtless stanza breaks, and cliches crept across them like blight. Roy and Ruthie were about to give up on those poets, and with them their life-long dream of cruising the Caribbean, but then Ruthie and Roy had another conversation:

"Roy?"

"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 on over here."

They switched the poets to a diet of citrus, bean sprouts, the occasional organ meat or lean veal cutlet with a dry, white sherry for a nightcap, and before long the yield improved.

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.

Soon enough they had a bumper crop and a real New York agent and the critics almost tripped over their tongues they were so fat with praise. Just last week the agent gave Ruthie and Roy the word that they'd won an honest to goodness Pulitzer prize. A Pulitzer prize! So Ruthie went off cape shopping to prepare for a full 12 days and 11 nights, 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 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.

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