151. India

Rope rug: Louise
Lay on it,
Holding a wet
Diaper on her eyes.
“Cooler. Hot air
Rises,” she explained–“Say, you
Make this rug?”
Riah, mending,
From her chair: “I did.”
“Figures–rug of
Thorns. Ow!
There are ways to
Soften them, you know!”
Riah asked, “Why
The diaper?”
Louise sighed: “Oh,
Lordy, Lordy.
Took it by
Mistake, the Candler place.
Their whole litter’s
Sick–I got to
Take it back.
I can hear folks
Now: ‘That Kemp, that
Heartless bitch–
Stole the diaper
Off a baby’s butt.'”

Checked a smile.
Louise smoothed her
Wet, tight-belted
Waist. “Too hot!”
From beneath
The wet cloth, she peeped
Riah seemed to
Never be distraught.
Mass of brown hair
Pinned up at her neck–one
Tendril strayed.
Louise yawned, and
Sweat slid down her cheeks.
She said: “Guess what’s
At the Rex?”
“This newsreel.
Well, there was this
Injun.” Louise
Wiped her face.
“India Indian, with that
Loincloth on,
Sleeping sound,
Laying on these
Boards where nails poked out.
He slept, too!
Like a stone”: her tone
Teased. “The M.C.
Said: mind over matter.”
“Master of Ceremonies.”
“What’s the ceremony?”
Riah asked this
As she patched some sleeves.
“I don’t know!
The newsreel? But
When I felt this
Rug, thought of that
Board. But no offense.”
“None taken.” Riah snugly
Tied a knot.

Rolling over,
Rakish diaper
Draped across one eye, Louise
Recalled: “Then this
Other man, this Indian,
Played a horn.
Snake danced in his
Basket. See, he’d
Charmed it.”
“Hmm.” Not hearing,
Riah liked this talk.
She wished that
Louise would never
She felt unaccountably
As she sewed,
Ragged clothes turned
Whole beneath her fingers,
Rips healed up with
Stitches, shreds to
Shapes: cuff,
Seam. Sun lay
On her hands.
“Go on,” she said
Tranquil, never
Noticing her
Voice, its warmth, its ease–
And the sudden
Change in her friend’s face.
Louise, sharp lines
Softened, quick
Complied: “Well,
What I think–
First time this guy,
He puts down that
Horn”–her finger
Wagged–“turns his
Back–that snake will
Bite his ass.”
Even language
This bad lapped at
Riah harmless,
Swirls of pleasing
Sound–she wound a spool.

Louise closed her
Eyes. She tilted
Back her chair. Pictured
Riah back that day
At sewing club. All
The others, erect,
Rigid, with their
Disapproving faces
Leaning in, old
Pick-up sticks in
Dresses, gripping tea–Louise
Paused, savored
The portrait–
But lodged in
The midst of their stiff angles, one
Blooming brown-eyed
Roundness: “Why,
Louise!” Riah had said.
Rueful now,
Louise shook her head:
“Why, Louise!”
And like some raw
Fool, Louise thought,
All those hags there
Dropped out of my
Sight. And I walked into
That room. I sat down.
Sat, she thought,
Summoned, suckered
In there by that
Welcome, simple
As an open door.
Had seemed plain and
Easy: Riah there!
The severe dark
Hair–the face bold
In its health, though
Thin–the brown hands
Self-possessed and
Clever, strong,
That could do so
Much–farm, garden–
And that floating
Face, an invitation–“Why,
Louise!” So
Fetching, fleshly,
Present, that one
Wanted just to
Reach, to touch,
As you would
A newborn or fine
Horse, to feel,
Touch so as to
Make the vision
Louise smiled. Thought:
Here I lay,
On this floor,
Skirt-high to this
Creature dressed in gray,
Who’d kept vines green
Till the last dog died,
Whose feet wore shoes
Broad as Army boots.

“Riah,” Louise
Said out of the blue,
“Do you know what
You remind me of?
You do, absolutely, of
A rose.”
“I don’t.” Riah
Ducked to hide her face:
“More about that
Horn. Tell, please.”

Riah found her
Thimble, shook a sleeve.
She kept sewing,
And she kept
Her peace.

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