132. Observers

They had watched him
Walk back to the truck:
Young man’s gait but
With an old man’s shoulders.
Tom was aging
Early, as they were.
Then his wife came
From a store to join him–
Merging, they were
Counting out some coins.
Son ran up.
They climbed in their
Truck and drove away.

Folks was
Funny. So thought
All the men,
With their backs propped
On the Red and White. Their
Wives had told them:
Tom’s wife had not
Been asked to the pounding,
Where they all would
Bring the preacher food. Women’s
Business. Men would
Stay clear, nodding
At the wisdom:
There was something
Wrong about that woman.
Always was.

How hard could it
Be to just act
Right?
Take Tom: they gave
That boy every chance.
Hired hand, he’d
Married into land–
Was that held
Against him? No.
He could sit
Among them, any time.
But he had no
Common sense, no
Humor. About Riah, never
Told a joke.
While they passed their
Day with funny tales,
All about
The skittishness of wives–
Like as not, instead of
Laugh, Tom’d stare.
Once he’d asked, “Your
Wife, she don’t know
That?”–not
In on it.
And too, Thomas
Listened to Jack Hance,
Whose plans all got
Knocked in a cocked hat.
Man like Thomas,
Backward and contrary,
Better mind his
Manners in this town,
That is, if he’d
Like to stay around.

Foot to foot, they
Shifted. Still and all–
Wouldn’t do to
Boot one of their own.
Can’t kick someone
Clean out, man who someday
Might be needed.
They stared, squinting.
Grass won’t even
Grow along the street:
Better not to
Face this thing alone.
They kept scanning,
Scanning. Could it be?
Land that bore them
Crops had turned to
Bone.

The dry earth had
Tried to shake them off.
They would hang on,
Stubbornly as fleas.
More than that:
They could still pass
Judgment on the scene.
Need not tolerate strange
Goings-on.
So they thought and
Sat beside the store,
Knowing that next
Week they’d still be there,
Wedged tight to
The battered rail, with
Tom.

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