A rural family lives in a jumble of people, filling two smallish houses and working the fields. Is it a commune, a kibbutz, or something else? Does anyone care who's in which bed as long as the work gets done?Well, that's where it started, in the late 1060s. Things got rather more convoluted since; the timeframe is somewhere 1870-1920. The result approximates a line marriage -- with everyone on the farm being considered part of the family, but those with a farmborn parent expected to choose outsider lovers -- only without being anywhere near as formal as a marriage. There seems to be quite a lot of mixing and matching, and the farm attracts a lot of eccentric creative people. Oh, and we're in Sweden, or a reasonable approximation of same. You can find other poems in the Hart's Farm series via the Serial Poetry page.
It was late summer when Auduna
made her way up the dusty road
to the tidy white-painted gate that stood
between the rowan trees heavy with orange fruit.
White chickens clucked and scratched
in the soft green grass beside the road,
where a barefoot woman stood with a small boy.
"Welcome," she said with a cheerful smile.
"I'm Frida, the seamstress, and this is my son Engelbert.
You must be Auduna. We've been expecting you."
Auduna nodded. "The tailor in town sent me,"
she said softly, "when I asked about work."
"We can always use help," Frida agreed, opening the gate.
Auduna brushed at the faded gray of her dress,
feeling shabby next to the seamstress
whose red-and-white checkered dress
stood out boldly against her bright blue apron.
Even little Engelbert had a light blue shirt
under his white jumper, topped by a darker blue hat.
Inside the fence, the farm stretched out
in a tumble of houses and barns, fields and gardens.
"Can you believe all this started with two little houses?
Cavan Hart arrived with Inghild, centuries ago
after the Norman Invasion, and settled here in Sweden
next to old man Olaf and his daughter Gudrun,"
Frida said, pointing to a pair of pink cottages.
"Then after people outgrew those,
they built the common house and everything else."
The tour of the common house was a riot of introductions:
the writer Svanhilda with her dark brown hair in a tail over her chest
who penned romances and horror stories,
the poet Lia with her long blond braid down her back,
Inge who was painting herself in the nude, her dark hair
piled loosely on her head where it hid nothing whatsoever --
and who all apparently kept company in various combinations --
plus Solvig in her prim black dress who slept alone
and was a scholar, currently trying to connect Basque
to some other European language.
The only man in the house at present
was the carpenter Arnvid, mending a cabinet door
with the help of his young daughter Astrid
who handed him tools upon request
and waved at Engelbert as they passed.
"Most everyone else is out in the fields,"
said Frida, "but you can meet them at supper."
"I've already met so many, I can hardly remember them,"
Auduna said faintly, "except perhaps for Inge."
"No one ever forgets Inge," Frida said with a chuckle.
"Now this is the laundry room and the linen closet,
where we could most use extra hands this time of year."
"I can wash and sew," Auduna said.
"You'll like Karin Ragnasdotter and Klara Karinsdotter,"
Frida said, and Auduna perked up at that
because Frida hadn't bothered with last names for anyone else --
and the use of matronymics instead of patronymics made her wonder.
"Yes, Karin came here just like you, though farther along,"
Frida said with a glance at Auduna's belly.
Blushing, Auduna dropped her hand
to cover the small bulge. She forgot about it,
sometimes, for hours at a stretch,
that little stone which the stream of her life
would have to flow around forever more.
Once again Frida made the introductions
while Auduna mustered a shy smile.
Karin's brown curls were working their way out of her bun
in the damp heat of the laundry room,
where her tow-headed daughter
folded pillowcases with practiced grace.
Engelbert was set on the floor with a basket of linens
for Auduna to mend. "He'll find the holes for you,"
Frida explained. "He's good at that."
So Auduna dutifully noted
where the wiggling fingers poked through,
and closed the holes with careful stitches,
appreciating how much easier the task was
with a new needle and thread on a proper spool.
By supper time they had finished the basket of mending,
and Auduna had a fresh dress as blue as the sky at noon
with a white apron embroidered in multicolored flowers.
Frida led them all to the big kitchen,
which held so many people that Auduna
nearly lost her nerve and fled back to the laundry room.
But Frida took one arm and Karin took the other
and they planted her firmly on a bench between them.
It was very strange to watch Inge
hugging and kissing her way around the room, still nude,
or to see the two writers bracketing the carpenter
and holding hands behind his back
so that he sat in the cradle of their arms,
and there was Solvig sitting not on a bench but
in her own chair at the end of one table with nobody touching her
as she delivered some sort of speech to a rapt audience.
In the end it was not so different after all, though --
they passed around big wheels of knäckebröd (1)
with salted fish and yogurt, roast pork with apples,
vegetables from the gardens Auduna passed on the way in,
and klappgröt pudding with a choice of lingonberries or blackberries. (2)
Auduna savored every bite, intensely grateful for the food,
and chased the last bit of berry juice around her plate
with a piece of bread.
Older children came to clear the dishes away,
and the carpenter got up to kiss some suntanned farm hand,
the large crowd breaking up into smaller clusters of people,
when Auduna abruptly realized
that she had no idea where she would be staying
or even if she would be staying.
Frida came to her rescue again.
"Why don't you move in with me and Karin for now?"
she invited. "With two children in the cottage already,
we won't mind a new baby come winter,
if you don't mind our little ones underfoot."
Auduna hesitated, shifting in place.
Karin added, "Of course you can choose someone else,
now or later, or have anyone over to visit."
The idea of actually having a choice
was even stranger to Auduna
than seeing three people cuddling
or two men sharing an after-supper kiss
or a naked woman painting her own portrait.
She folded her hands over the hard little lump of her belly,
and gamely smiled at the two eager women,
then forced an answer past the smaller, tighter lump in her throat.
"Yes," Auduna said, "I will stay with you."
Everything was not all right in her world,
had not been so for a very long time,
but at least the dam had broken
and now the water was running free.
* * *
1) Knäckebröd is a crisp, cracker-like bread often made in rounds with a hole in the middle so it may be stored on a rod.
2) Klappgröt is semolina pudding whipped to a fluff with the juice of berries such as lingonberries, blackberries, or raspberries.