103. Slow Day

If it rains….
Surely it will
Rain. Come summer,
Always rains.

Dawdling over breakfast
Just like James, Tom
Sat. Sure,
Time to go out, but
Nowhere to go.
Nothing needed
Chopping, plowing,
Even watching over.
First time in his
Life with hours to fill.
Hated seeing James
Head off to play.
When he’s back, Tom thought, I’ll
Have him read that book
Aloud to me: that boy
Loves an audience.

Idle, Tom had
Come to know James’
Books. And Tom and
James spent hours with
Marbles now: which were
Cracked? Which ones
Should James trade?
Tom kept up now with
Jack Armstrong’s saga,
All-American on radio,
Retold daily
By Matthew to James.
Tom discovered
Saying, “Jack still
Trapped insideĀ that cave?”,
Just to see
The brightness of James’ face.

Tom rose and
Cleared the table:
In the kitchen,
Riah scrubbing pans.
“Leave the stove. I’ll
Do it,” Thomas said.
Meant an hour,
Maybe more, would pass.
“After that I’m
Going to see Bud.”
“Land Bank thing?”
“Yep. If they’ll
Refinance mortgage,
Pick it up–” Tom
Drifted off–
He thought, if they
Will, we’ll hold on then.
Won’t lose house, the farm,
Or put our belongings
On the auction block, and
Hit the road.

Tom laughed
Shortly: she knew why.
All these paper
Profits, paper debts,
Papers meant your
Farm. Cotton prices
On the tape in Houston,
Dallas–market ruled–
Bank men holding
Meetings on your home–
Skimmed your “file”–
It was–Riah floundered–
Ridiculous! Not real.
Piece of paper!
This house, she thought,
Here beneath my hand. Yet–

Yet, Tom thought,
What we see’s a lie.
Only do these
Papers tell the truth–
And the work and
Wanting did not
Count. We don’t
Own a house.
It’s the bank
Decides.
What-all rich folks
Think, Tom thought, is
True. Poor folks
Just think lies.
And me too–
Telling lies, he thought,
Blaming banks when
I can’t feed my
Son.

Tom asked
Riah as he bent down
To the stove: “James
Say anything?” Not
Looking up, he started
Scraping grease. Riah:
“How’s that?”
“James say–anything?”
About me, Tom meant–
Their breadwinner,
But there ain’t no
Bread. No shoes. No food.
Tom asked Riah
Sometimes about James,
And what James
Confided in his ma.

Riah straightened.
She wrung out her
Rag, regarding Tom.
Aged ten years, she thought.
Tom’s once-sandy
Hair had paled with gray,
Eyes preoccupied, uneasy
Hands: that stove would shine.
She replied,
“You don’t have to
Ask me that no more.
What he says to
Me, he says to
You.”

In his scouring,
Tom paused.
Then they went on
With the morning chores.

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