108. Bedtime

Tom had picked up
One of Riah’s chores,
Sack of uncooked
Beans. He took it
To the porch.
He sat sorting
Beans from gravel stones.
She came out, too,
As he knew she would.
Dipped a handful.
Riah: “Got much gravel?”
“Yes.” But
He flinched at his
Voice: why, lately, harsh?
He tried over:
“Nice-sized beans, though.”

Tom kept working,
Puzzling as he sat.
Preacherspoke last
Sunday on the topic:
“Grateful for Tough Times.”
On how wives and
Husbands would now
“Cut out that wild
Living and carousing”–folks had
Listened closely–
And would now stay
Home to teach “old values,”
Learn to be content
With just each other,
Poor perhaps, but
Christian–“Like our
Forefathers–” and
Then he’d mentioned
Washington and
Lincoln, and then
Once more, values–
“Which have made our
Country what it is.”

Seemed to Tom,
He and Riah’d
Hardly spoke since summer.
Now he wondered:
What’d we used to say?
Meals, they’d talked.
But meals now were
They would sneak their
Portions to James’
Plate. Used to,
They’d talk politics–Riah,
Roosevelt. But
President sent
Rental checks,
Checks in place of
Alms, and Thomas
Could not speak his
Name. Used to,
They’d talked work.
What the crop had
Looked like, when to sell–
They had cotton
Then, and it was
Wanted. World bid
For their crop.
Not today, Tom
Thought: the country
Stringing them
Along on crumbs,
Hoping they would
Drop clear off the earth.
With no thing to
Sell, then you were
Used to, there’d be
Doings in town
They’d discuss–
News on radio–but now
What else?

Through the night sky,
Sailing by serene,
Cluster of gray
Clouds lit from behind,
Like a giant
Cream magnolia blooming.
Through a shining
Seam, the moon broke
Free: huge
Dreamlike seed that
Floated in dark space.
Turning to her,
Tom’s words in
A jumble: “It just
Beats me why you’re
So stuck on this land.
This land here, it
Don’t give nothing
Alone in his
Anger, Tom was
Mad. She stared
Vacantly: what
Had he said?
She’d been poised
To leave.

Hell, she never
Questions it, he thought:
No more than she does
Her skin and bones–she
Don’t ask, just goes on.
Thomas thought how
Ignorant she seemed–
She seemed not to
Notice he’d gone broke.
She still sent James
To him with his
Questions: weather,
Birds….And James
Seemed to speak to him
Still with respect–
Oh, Tom watched him
Close for signs of sass–
James said yes sir, no sir.
Tom thought, this is
Crazy! I’m
A bum!
And my family
Don’t appear to know.

Tom and Riah
Startled: car? They
Traced approaching
Headlights with surprise.
Time was way past
Nine. There came
A figure floating
Through the front yard gate.
Mrs. Marvin.
“Evening. Riah,
You had better
Come. We all are
There. It’s Earline’s
Boy. In a bad
What say?
The ruddy Stubbs,
Picture of rude
Health with his plump
Cheeks. Last to catch
The typhoid.

Riah glanced at
Thomas. Fine.
Her: “Be
Right along.”

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