The Rhubarb Bed of O’MacAiam
A wee man comes one day from Ulster way
An’ books into Ma Reilly’s pub to stay,
though whether for to visit long or short
he canna promise Ma in either way.
He asks round town, graduly writes hisself a list
of farmers growin’ rhubard, keeps it whist.
Ma Reilly draws a map to all the farms;
he beams and leans in close to give a kiss.
The charmer goes an’ hires hisself a gig
an’ ‘orse, tosses up his bag and stick.
He takes off out of town at such a pace
his audience expects to see a wreck.
He works his way through Reilly’s map all day
a-callin’ on each rhubarb man the way;
Discussing contracts – rhubarb crops for cash –
then back to Reilly’s, positively gay
Days passed an’ he continues on his quest
to find and sign up all the rhubarb’s best
producers. Ulster wants to brew a rhu-
barb wine. O’MacAiam would be his test.
O’MacAiam is known to grow such crops
the rhubarb competition had been dropped
from off the annual guild hall contest list,
for local growers knew that his was tops.
He grows his rhubarb hidden down the back
of his big garden patch beside the shack
in which he stores his barrow, tools an’ such
an’ fertilizer bagged in hempen sacks.
The main part of his garden grows the greens
the fam’ly needs, like carrots, spuds and beans
and Ma O’MacAiam creates the meals
which fill the family table with their means.
To manage waste they keep a group of pigs.
They start as weaners, then grow fat and big –
They’re fed the scraps from after family meals
And waste from after garden’s had a dig.
The pigs they live in warm and cosy sties
away at bottom, off from taxman’s eyes.
Their sunny open pen is where they eat
the leavings: stews and puddings, tarts and pies
So fat they are and oh so healthy grow
from walnuts; and the fallen acorns too
build up the pigs both meat and fat and more
important, makes their innards push the poo.
Pigs’ shite is added to the compost, mixed,
an’ spread around the rhubarb, later picked
and always red in stalk and broad in leaf
and crunchy, tasty, juicy – pickers lick!.
O’MacAiam he plans to give the plants
the very thing just what he thinks they want –
good food, the same as every living bein’
(though pig shite is a thing the others daren’t).
The wee man draws his gig up to a halt,
Leaps down, gets over gate with sprightly vault;
he greets O’MacAiam wi’ outstretched hand,
presumes to draw O’MacAiam to talk.
O’MacAiam is none too pleased to hear
o’ neighbours signing crops away for years.
Determined not to join the muddled few
for local rhubarb wine would suffer dear.
He smiles, a foxy smile, and asks wee man
“Yez ever worked the rhubarb in the land?
If yez are buyin’ up the crops from here
ye need to know just how it feels – it’s grand.”
The wee man follows to the rhubarb beds.
He’s feigning int’rest in whatever’s said.
O’MacAiam he grabs a fist of soil
An’ lifts it for the man to get th’ scent.
O’MacAiam explains the earthy smell
is why his rhubarb always does so well.
He tells of how the soil can do its work –
and then the source of goodness also tells.
XIX The wee man pales – “The rhubarb’s grown in poo!?”
“O’ course – e’en plants need feedin’ too!
Ee, here, you smell that richness, that’s good soil”
An’ thrusts the clump at wee man’s nose, close too!
The wee man asks to be excused and runs
and back at Reilly’s sends a telegrum
reporting what he’s found about the plants.
He gets new orders when the reply comes.
– “There’s no pig shite in soil our rhubarb’s from!
If word gets out, our wine sales will be gone
For lords and ladies hold their standards high
And pig shite they will say is way too wrong!”
So wee man rode back along his former path around
to check if others used pig muck in their ground.
They did. The contracts all were torn in shreds
And wee man soon was gone; he’d left the town.
And were the farmers angry losing cash?
Of course not, O’MacAiam saw to that.
suggesting farmers all could brew a drink,
for traders buying rhubarb wine, in vats.
Our rhubarb wine would travel overseas
and it would both the French and Spanish please.
If any housewife didna’ know the How,
Ma MacAiam would share her recipes
They’d all put in for vats, an’ boilers, corks
an’ any else that’s needed for the work.
Each farmer’d be allowed to brew his own;
The bottling by the village from their stalks.
The venture it was slow to get a start.
Some mothers wanting still to make their tarts.
As practice grew, so too the rhubarb brew
And word reached traders off from near and far.
The first returns were sadly rather meagre,
Hopes for next year’s better brew were eager
Giving hope that they were onto good
for rhubarb wine, the drink’s a world’s beater.
Came income to the folks as lived in town.
And as the wine’s success kept growin’ on
so rhubarb beds of O’MacAiam became
the place to learn how best to grow your coin
© Lynne McAnulty-Street, Rotorua NZ, 2011
(writ for the Rotorua Mad Poets’ , given the week’s theme ‘rhubarb’)