154. A Chat

“You look kind of
Peaked,” Riah said,
Narrow hips near
Lost in the plump couch–
“Feel all right?”
Grateful to be
Asked, Patty considered–
Then thought better,
And tilted the pot.
“Fine, thanks.” She poured.
Riah smiled. “I’m glad.
I felt good with
James. Big with
Eight or ten-pound
Baby’s nothing,
Next to picking
Cotton half a day.”
Till miscarriage,
Riah’d had no
Backache. She had
Always put great
Stock in her own strength.
In sewing circle,
Patty sometimes shushed her–
Riah’s pregnant
Tales lacked all complaint:
Back was firm,
Legs had never hurt….

Patty, pouring cream.
Chilled by gray
Regret at Riah’s answer,
She drew breath in,
Asked uncomfortably:
“Ever have some
Problem feeding James,
Him a baby?”
She thought:
Course not. Riah
Is a horse.
“Nossir!” Eager:
“You know me and
Tom, what we would do?
James was born in
Summer.” Jostling,
Her cup sloshed.
“Tom and me’d go
Out and work the field.
And we’d lay James
At the turnrow, say,
In a furrow!”
The sky had been
Wet then, vivid
Soil–brown and
Red with rain, and
Crumbling rich,
Spongy mash that
Pinked the baby’s skin.
In deep May:
Pollen floating,
Cottonseed, spore-balls
Light hovering,
Gently sugaring his wispy
Hair. They’d pick up
James. The damp earth
He came to them
Radiantly warm,
Fragrant with milk, loam.
“And who got there
First, gave him
The bottle. And him,
Size of Thomas’
Hand!” Thomas
Laughing, calling
Her: come see.
“You didn’t–”
“No, I had no
Milk. Don’t know why.
I dried up third
Day.” Patty
Thought: well, I’ve got
Milk, at least.

Suddenly, she
Changed. “Riah,
Dear,” her softest
Tone to start,
“I must really
Ask–common courtesy–
Please don’t invite
Someone in my home,
If I’m not right
There, ever again. You
Other day
The ladies were
Upset….” Riah,
Dazed at being
Summoned from
The past–how good life
Was, with rain! Tom’s
Ringing laugh, the sight
She loved to see.
Now light drained
From her face.
“….Quite upset.” So!
They did talk of
Riah when she
Left. Louise was
Riah sickened:
What could they all
Say? What comments make?
Her clothes, work–
Why, her very
Words, they all might hate.
She thought: and who
Am I, to talk back?

The day sank in
Heat. Now,
Stirring wet and
Sticky on the couch,
Riah crossed her
Feet, hands sweating,
Ill at ease–those
Swollen thunderclouds of
Years ago, Tom cradling
Baby James, forgot.

Riah cast her
Eyes on Patty’s
Rug. Here I
Am again, she thought.

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