The Farm Wife, a poem by Shari Wagner
at a “walk-a-mile”—a Mennonite dating game
The last light was touching the tassels
when the quiet boy from Emma Church
tapped the guy with his eye on college
and told him to move forward five couples.
That’s how I met Pete. From the soft way
he scuffed the gravel and whistled
to a red-winged blackbird, I could tell
he wasn’t the sort to shoot the starlings
or tell me how to keep my house.
Not like the boys who talked to be talking
and walked so close they almost pushed me
in the ditch. When Lu Miller told me,
“Move back nine,” I did with regret
but tagged her back when the next girl said,
“Go forward four,” and I added five.
It was cheating, but that’s how you knew
someone liked you—when they came back.
At Fly Creek, cicadas were clicking
and swallows brushed the darkness
with their wings. Or maybe they were bats.
Pete and I dropped back and stood at the railing
to hear the frogs. It was dark enough
he could ask if I had plans for next evening
and I slid my hand in his. Our grandkids laugh
when I say they should walk-a-mile.
When they like someone, they text
and call that dating, though they might be
a hundred miles apart.
The farm wife remembers the funerals she presided over
While Dad hitched the trailer,
I’d lead my sisters to the special pen
and say, “Dearly beloved,
we are gathered to bless this calf
before he goes to market.”
We each said something pleasant
about his brown eyes
and thick lashes,
his earnest tongue licking our hands.
By the time they started school,
my sisters threw their kisses,
like passengers aboard a ship.
One chilly day, even a stick
of chewing gum
couldn’t bribe them to the barn.
I poured the extra measure
of grain into the bin,
then stood alone with my bible,
looking into soft eyes
that had never seen or blinked at evil.
For the last time, I sang,
Children of the Heavenly Father.
It was snowing when I left.
The wind blew flakes into my face
and stung my eyes.
The farm wife ponders her mother’s cookbook
I cook by heart, adding more of this, less
of that, but Mom, bless her soul, never strayed
from The Mennonite Community Cookbook.
Among the pages, I find slick pamphlets
she picked up at church: Golden Hours
with the Bible, The Most Costly Gift,
Where Will You Be Five Minutes After You Die?
No wonder she complained of insomnia.
She never wrote “delicious” or “wonderful”
in the margins, only the same refrain: “Tried”
and “Tried.” But I can tell that she favored
something sweet by where the splatters fell.
Shari Wagner is the author of two books of poetry, The Harmonist at Nightfall: Poems of Indiana and Evening Chore. She is the Indiana Poet Laureate for 2016-2017.