Return Of The Fiddlehead Ferns

Fiddlehead ferns (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Fiddlehead ferns (Russell Steven Powell photos)

I GAVE UP writing poetry years ago to devote myself to painting. They spring from the same source, but all too often the editor in me would overwork my poems until I had sucked the life out of them.

These days I confine my writing to essays and other nonfiction, where my editor is gainfully employed. A handful of poems survived my butchery, however.

Every few years I dust off this one, in celebration of that annual rite of spring, the return of the fiddlehead ferns. It originally appeared in The Berkshire Review in 2004.

Fiddleheads

Eight years after Yettie died

Rolando still sniffed the house

for boiled cabbage and bacon grease

lingering in the corners

he seldom swept or wiped.

 

He sat up sleepily,

gripping the bed on either side,

trying to recall her warmth and shape

lying next to him 51 years.

Scratching his head,

he looked down at his spotted legs

and was struck by how skinny he was,

although his belly sagged.

 

Today was May one.

He pulled himself up.

This was the day to get fiddleheads.

He dragged a comb across

his still thick, cream-colored hair

and threw his jacket on.

 

Rolando walked by their small stand

of tightly budded lilacs

on his way to the garage

and climbed into the car

he’d driven eleven years

that still ran well with minor repairs,

a cream-colored wagon like his hair,

 

and drove a mile or more

on dirt roads through new potato fields

until he came to a spot by the slow river

where the ferns annually unfolded.

 

Yettie wore a faded cotton dress

that seemed full of her life

like no other perfume.

 

She would set her line for yellow perch

while Rolando hunted through the wilds

of broken bottles and new growth until he

filled a bowl with the tender, tightly-wound scrolls.

 

They’d mix their catch that night,

fried with butter and a small onion

then simmered with milk into a thick stew

which they’d make three times

in the next two weeks

and then not at all for fifty-two.

 

Rolando turned the radio up

because who was he bothering

at this hour and in this place?

and inched along the road, avoiding the ruts,

 

thinking about the years now long ago

when he supervised two men in a greenhouse

growing half the pansies in western Massachusetts.

 

The moist greens and violets and golds

blossoming in a thousand rows

beneath acres of glass while outside it froze

kept his spirits up and his sleeves short

no matter how cold it got.

 

But the day picking fiddleheads

marked the change from plants sown indoors

to those that stirred from roots or seed

directly under wind and sun.

*          *          *

Fiddlehead ferns (Russell Steven Powell photo)TO LEARN MORE about this first crop of the season, visit Fiddleheads, a weblog post from 2012.

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