It is my aim to break the prairie
one pie plant at a time, from behind the barn
in Sandusky to the side of this shack
outside of Aberdeen. Acid,
tonic, it asks for a bit of sweetness,
red-veined stalks oozing juice
that pools in the bottom of the pan.
It is my aim to make the most of our bounty
such as it is and prepare for the scarceness
we know must come
hidden in this wind that will never end,
to transform what is bitter.
For roasted rhubarb, peel as for pie
and put long pieces
in the graniteware baking dish,
the one that didn’t break
on the long ride from Ohio.
For two quarts rhubarb allow one
and a quarter cups sugar sprinkled over.
Bake until tender. No water is needed,
a very good thing where none
is to be had without carrying
from five miles off.
It is my aim to cure what can be cured
with the materials at hand. Astringent, aperient,
it soothes a baby’s stomach ache,
makes a good wash for scrofulous sores.
For pie, pour boiling water over it,
let stand until cold and reserve the water
for lemonade made without lemons.
Blanching removes some bitterness
and allows the use of sorghum
where sugar is dear.
It is my aim to remove whatever stains.
Take half a stalk, mince it up and add a cup
of water. Boil and cool and dab the juice
on the stained blouse or what have you with a brush.
Rinse under warm water and launder as usual,
or what passes for usual in these parts.
Over time, the crowns get crowded,
and must be divided every five years,
so by the time you’ve proved your claim
you may take some along
to the new place. If good roots are set out,
by the second spring it will be just
in its prime, it will thrive
in new ground, its crinkled leaves
heart-shaped and deadly,
broad as the palms laid before
the Virgin Mary. Pass it on
as you go further west, that all may know
a woman’s hand was here, and here, and here.