The Gift of Violet: A poem in honor of National Rural Health Day


Art has the power to change and heal us. For National Rural Health Day, we asked local artist and poet José Faus to share a poem about his time painting a mural in a rural Kansas community.


This is the mural José painted. He wrote about his experience in his poem, The Gift of Violet.

The Gift of Violet
By José Faus

I work at night
cast the projector light to the wall
Begin to tell a story of this town
between Newton and Emporia
Wichita and Manhattan
A town of boom cycles and busted dreams
crumbling houses and majestic homes
A cat harbors a litter of four in the garage
the workers fill bowls of water and food
Shadows pass me in the evening
faceless squatting in the parks open lands
the crumbling facades quiet eyes cast down
mumbling softly to past selves

Sandy helps me in the day when
I begin to fill the drawing with color
I was an addict once came here to get straight
found that I was needed here
no degree but the shared experience
She counsels and softly cajoles folks
here and in the nearby towns
One day she surprises me with her silence
It’s been hard I lost four this week
Two suicides an overdose and another in jail

The monthly Monday farmers’ market is abuzz
He is on the stool with the other musicians
It’s his birthday one hundred and one years
I watch as the trio plays Hey Good Looking
He strums the pristine 56 Les Paul
Its polish as old as I am
Can you believe he is 101 years old
As if I have never seen anyone
one hundred one years old
strumming a guitar
on a day that breaks 108 degrees
sitting stout pleased and happy
and present as a sunflower
in high summer

You should taste this cake Janice made
She is a great baker some day
you will have to try her rhubarb pie
I think of the last time I had rhubarb
It was a picnic in another small town
and another birthday celebration
The family matriarch counting 95 years
And I wonder what it is about rhubarb
and bemoan the rhubarb pie has run out

Cynthia reassures me if I come next time
there will be plenty of rhubarb Cynthia
who greets me every morning at 10 sharp
before the bank parking lot clock across
the street flashes it on the digital screen
Her determined waddle a painful
shift of the upper torso side to side
on thick legs stiff from the arthritis
that spreads across her body
I’m running late today she says
as the clock hits one past ten

She is headed to the senior center
helps make the meals for the elders
This is her routine as constant
as the stars that flood the night sky
Sometimes it hurts too much
It’s worse if I stop and stand still
By one her day done she walks home
She will come back at four
get the shopping in the market
and return to make her meal
watch the shows she hankers for

Oh that’s Cynthia one of ours
We watch out for her
Her parents passed she lives
in the house she was born in
Today she tells me good bye
she leaves in the morning for Wichita
where she will take a chartered bus
and head for Oklahoma
to visit a museum and other places
She has planned this trip for
three years only to have covid
cancel it each time

Today the fog is thicker
than a December snowbank
The dust from the gravel mixes
with the mist makes a fine mud
The shout of kids yelling on their bikes
tells me school is canceled for the day
just like the day the valves and seals
of the water tower
failed and left the town without water
near the only other restaurant in town
and a boil order for two days
and kids running in and out
of the quaint deserted downtown street
in their tractors lawn mowers golf carts
Later they will arrive with parents
an appointment to maintain
The mobile eye clinic has
made a stop in the parking lot
There is no doctor nearby
There is a hospital
in another town within the county borders
not close like the one five blocks from my house

I’m worried right now my house is going up for auction
for back taxes but I don’t get enough in my disability
to cover it I’m trying to see at this point I can only hope
She steadies her steps with a cane adjusts her sunglasses
I have to wear these all the time
I’ve got two pair the others broke
without them the light blinds me

I stop at Pop’s the sun has been brutal
The clock registers 112 degrees
and not a cloud to see
The diner conversation swells the walls
The state of crops and absence of rain on the menu
I notice no one on their cell phones
not reading screens and realize
this has been the norm every time I enter
at home I can’t recall
a meal without eyes fixed
on the small screen not the
faces that sit across from you
laugh with you fill in the gossip
inquire about the kids and the elders

Marylyn came by today her smile
warmer than the scorching sun
She gets out of her car brings
a bouquet of purple nettle-like dried flowers
as bright as any violet on my color charts
You have to come with me and see
the field is aglow with them
I have never seen them this bright
In her 95 years this is the brightest she has seen
and I wonder the following morning why I said
We will check it out later
Bemoan I can’t find the spot
He tells me he saw them too
and the glint in his eyes tells me
I have missed more than
the violet on the plains

The other day Faye came by asked
If indeed I like rhubarb pie of course I do
After a few words she leaves
Hours later she returns with a freshly baked
rhubarb pie the memory of which I can add
to the fresh made breads with butter
baked and gifted more than once
and today I can think of nothing
but fields of violet blossoms
Eryngium leavenworthii