“we can say at least the lettuce loved the rain”: Lisa Olstein’s “Dear One Absent This Long While”

Lisa Olstein_Dear One Absent This Long WhileLisa Olstein’s “Dear One Absent This Long While” is a lovely poem, and especially appropriate for the rainy early spring we’re having here, when “everything blooms coldly.”

In what I thought of as an unsent letter, the speaker addresses the absent person—though the poem leaves open the identity of the missing loved one—revealing how she’s been so anxious to see him or her that she’s mistaken “leaves in the wind,” “the retreating shadow of a fox, daybreak” for the return of the absent loved one.

In the meantime, the speaker (solitary, we understand, since the other who wait are the cat and the stove—stoves in poems always remind me of Bishop’s “Sestina,” by the way) takes to planting to pass the time:

June efforts quietly.
I’ve planted vegetables along each garden wall

 

so even if spring continues to disappoint
we can say at least the lettuce loved the rain.
Initially stopped short by the unusual verb choice in that first line (“June efforts quietly”), I’ve since come to like it; it suggests the whole month is gathering its forces with the speaker, to try to wait out this rainy, lonely period.
What do you make of the last three stanzas? There’s the contrast of the new gardening tools with the practice of eulogies (eulogies that either describe animals or describe people using animals as metaphors) and the suggestion of death and decay (the “unrabbited” woods instead of the fecundity associated with rabbits). The beloved’s name is spoken by leaves that somehow chatter (like books?)–but are the leaves on the trees, or lying dead on the forest floor? Lots to think about.