157. A Gift

“So,
How’s your friend?”:
Face behind his
Paper, Tom sat
At the table,
Angling toward
The kerosene for light.

He meant, Riah
Knew, her friend Louise.
Louise, who had
Given her this
Kerchief–“Keep it,
Make it nice”–
That she stitched on
At this very minute, needle
Trailing its rich
Thread, gold-yellow
Strands. At first
Riah’d said, “I
Can’t waste thread.”
But Louise had
Cleverly suggested that
Embroidery would
Simply store the goods:
“Stitch it as
A rosebud. If you
Need it for your
Mending, pick it out.”
Now it’s looking
Pretty, Riah thought.
She told Tom: “She’s
Fine.” His question
Was a warning:
Louise in their house.
Riah should not
Let her–so Tom
Thought. And she should
Bow to his displeasure.
She must stop
Unless she had not
Heard. So,
She did not:
Took Tom at his
Word, and answered plain.

As she backstitched
Petals, Riah pondered.
Louise had such
Things! Kerchief, this week–
Last week a strange
Dress she’d shown to Riah,
Stitched from two old skirts–and
All those “Beauty
Aids” in that slick case,
Bottled Frost and
Shine and Polish, names–
And asked all those
Questions! Why,
Riah could let
Drop some slight remark, and
Louise seized it
Like a mint-new dime:
“Riah, what’d you
Say then?–What’d they
Say back?–What’d you do?”
I keep saying
“Nothing,” Riah
Thought, but she won’t
Let it go.

She kept stitching.
Pretty one, she thought,
Pleased past measure
To feel clever,
Free. Pretty one:
Sun-tint blossom,
The size of
Her thumb.

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