110. Night Talk

“One more dollar?
What you want that
For?” From beyond
The bedroom window in
The dark, crickets
Scraped the air with
Gasping chirps, crouching
On cracked earth.
“For food.”
She had learned short
Answers saved her
Breath–since she
Never could
Convince him well enough.
“Food!” he said,
As if to repeat her,
Mocked her words:
May I ask what
Come of that four
Bucks from Tuesday last?
Bought knick-knacks, I guess.”

That was unfair. That was
Terribly unfair–
A hard knot,
Injustice, in her throat.
She controlled her
Voice, intent to soothe:
“That four dollars
Tuesday was real
Nice. Bought beans and
Meal. But this
Month we’re short–
McKennas’ cow can’t
Eat enough to
Give. Baby
Needs a little more–”
She paused, “than I have.
I’m a little…
Tired.” He sighed
Straightening thoughts for her:
“First place, we’re not
Short. Second
Place, that cow is
Not McKennas’. Anyhow–
What’d you
Buy with that big
Pile I gave before?”
“Beans and meal.”
Bud sat up at this
And punched his pillow,
Then lay back and
Tossed in the moist bed.
My ma fed us,
Thirteen of us kids,
Fed one by one till we was
Two, and with no cow.
Pioneer stock, sure.”
She lay still.
“Guess I’m tired,” she
Ventured. “Guess I’ll
Drink more water.”
“Tired. Shoot! I guess
I’m tired too,
Scrambling to earn
Scratch for all of you!” Bud
Then: “Those four
Bucks that I forked
Over–they’re spent,
“Beans. Meal.”

Like a ghost,
Ghost-pale, Matthew,
At their door. “Dad,
Want to hear my quote
I learned for school?”
“I’m tired.”
“It’s Lincoln, Dad! You’ll
Like it. He says there’s
Two principles, one for
Folks who think they got some
‘Divine right,’ and one
For common folk. Kings say:
‘You work and toil and earn
Bread, and I’ll eat it. ‘ He–”
Bud roared: “What’s that
Supposed to be? Is that some
Comment on the bank? I
Told you, those that own it,
They’ll soon take me back. I’ll
Have my job soon, just like
They kept theirs! Now
Get along!” Matt

Baby wailed.
Patty sped down
The hall, tripped
Against the rocker,
Got the child.
Frantic for its
Feeding, fussing,
It refused her,
Stiffened in her hands.
Gown undone, Patty
Rocked and rocked.
The child, squealing,
Twisted from her breast.
She knew why:
Patty willed her
Body to relax.
Relax, neck. Arms.
“Mama’s calm.
Calm. Mama’s
Patty struggled
To slow down her breath,
Stroking, stroking
Baby. Screaming,
Famished, it flailed
Little fists.
“Sweetheart, Mama’s
Calm,” she whispered.
Its face scarlet,
Eyes screwed tightly
Shut. “Mama’s

Hour passed.
Baby took
A bit.
Relieved, Patty
Eased it in the crib.
To the bathroom
She withdrew tip-toe.
There awhile she
Stayed with door latched
It need not have
Been. No one
Straight-armed, Patty
Leaned above the washstand.
She was wishing
She could talk to someone.
Riah was
The last one she could

What? The teardrops
Dully wet her nose.
Bared, her breasts leaked
Down the flowered robe.

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