159. Consensus

It was too damn
Hot to start a thing.
But they could
Stop something.

On the wooden
Walk, the men had settled.
Where they sat, their
Overalls, damp-soaked. Socks
Shriveled at their
Ankles with the sweat.
With an effort,
They might turn their
Head to trace
A sound. Sun,
White and round.

“Well….Tally’s gone.”
Nods of weary
Interest. “Moved east,
I believe.”
“Abilene.”
“Store’s closed.”
Wives had been there
Scouring for bargains. “That
Clerk of his,” said Bud,
“So slow, I don’t
Wonder they shut down.” No one
Troubled to refute.
Mr. Patterson: “Seat
Open on
Committee, Tally’s gone.”

That seat:
McKenna wanted it.
He’d said not one
Word, but they all knew.
Overworked committee that signed
All the farmers’
Contracts, made sure
Land was left
Unplanted, to save
Soil–confirmed
Acreage, amounts for
All their checks–
Oversaw, with
Jack  Hance, the new
System Roosevelt
Set up for them. Well,
They thought, Tom was
Fair. No one
Questioned that.
Through the years they
Knew each other well:
Which of them clipped
Corners, which plowed
Straight. But–

Tom McKenna
Must not have that
Seat. This was foregone.
They stretched aching
Shoulders in the sun.
He had such small
Holdings. Course,
Idea appealed–
Little man,
Rewarded–

He’d earned
No reward.
They chawed their tobacco.
One cheap wad could
Last forever, tasteless….
Tiredness would
Kill them bit by
Bit. Tired out,
With no work.
Sit on someone’s
Porch and wait for rain:
Felt like dying. Dying,
Never dead. Had
Got so bad, they
Looked forward to
Funerals–sat
Longingly attentive through
The hymns:
Dreams of rest.

So it lay. And
Tom made them
More tired.
Though they couldn’t
Put their finger on it:
How his wife spoke, or
Seemed willing to, and also
His boy and his
Wife’s friend–the whole
Bunch of them, they
All jawed too damn much.
Tom himself could
Never say right things, things
That brought nods,
But his mumbled
Phrases bothered,
Pricked. What might
He say next?
It washed through them
All again:
The tiredness….

In his office
Jack Hance cocked his
Hat. Walked out,
Shut the door.
He strolled down
The street today on purpose,
So he’d meet up
With the local men,
Run a couple
Flags up the old flagpole:
Open seat for
Tom? But
Once he’d got
Outside and started off,
One block down that
Street, Jack halted
Dead. He’d
Spied them there.
On the walk.
His eyes read their
Faces, shaded
Gray. Read their fixed
Mouths. Read their still
Eyes. He read
Their minds.

He stood briefly.
Then he turned
Aside.

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