188. The Red and White

“Hell in a hand-
Basket! That’s where
This world’s headed.
You bet!” Bud tapped
His cigar. They
Nodded, spat
Tobacco. They felt
Riled today.
It was true when
Banks foreclosed that
Roosevelt had
Seen it, fixed it,
Him the first to
Listen to them–
Things were better.
Still, the hoped-for
Good days had not
Shown.

Heat lay on their
Heads, a stifling tarp.
“Government, it
Comes in–killed them
Pigs in ’33–says
Plant this way, do
Listing so those
Ridges catch the wind–”
“Why,” Jarrod said,
“Pussy-foot
Around! No way to
Farm! I guess I’m
Plumb old-fashioned,
But I don’t beg
Cotton from
The ground. You don’t ask
Cotton: ‘Won’t you
Grow?’ Hell, no! Take
Charge! Make it!
Make the land to
Act right, for Christ-sake!”

His blasphemy
Relieved them. They’d been
Forced to give up
Far too many
Vices. No cash
Left for their
Cigars: no cash left
Hardly for their
Dominoes, or
Liquor. But worst
Insult–skimp on
Food! Live like
The colored, like
The migrants, hand to
Mouth. Who were they,
Living so? Who were they,
Anymore?
One last pleasure–
But wives had turned
Sullen, sulking,
Muttering of
Doctor-bills, and milk.

Mr. Ennis, stooped with
Age: “My ma, God
Rest her soul,
Raised us up, all
Twelve! And fed us
Every day!
Whipped the land in
Shape, and whipped us,
Too–made our butts
Smoke. So we did
Right! That woman
Stitched our duds from
Scratch. And stayed at
Home–no clubs then–
No sashaying, jawing, fancy
Clothes. If Pa said
Frog, we jumped!
Ma did too.”
He wiped both is
Eyes. “She never
Did complain. And
Didn’t need to
Visit no Relief. No
Roosevelt.
We made clothes
Ourselves, or we went
Cold.”

Of Roosevelt,
Tom would not speak
Ill, nor curse his
Government. Most
Other men there,
Too, would hold their peace.
Tom thought: got my
Farm, my son has
Food. I don’t know
Why, but it is
True.

Thomas tried to
Reckon: they’d have
Sunk for sure,
But damn if those
Checks had not–they’d
Come! All, just as
Roosevelt had
Pledged on radio, voice
“On the air”….But
Thomas shook his
Head. Lately
Bad dreams dogged him.
In the dream,
He’d go into
Town and see the men.
As they sat there,
From his brain
A boil swelled, big
Knot. Grew bigger
Still, and hurt
Until his head, it
Seemed near to
Explode…and then he’d
Wake.
Tom would look at
Riah’s sleeping face,
Till the dream died
And he closed his eyes.

Hank: “Who they
Think we are?
Washerwomen? Got to ask
Permission, can’t mount
Tractors till we
Ask Jack Hance?”
Tom frowned: not
Permission, he thought.
But what else to
Call it, I can’t say.
Jack puffs up with
Figures, that’s for sure. But
Farming methods….
Sometimes he talks sense.
Sometimes Jack just
Tells us what we
Know. We know
Better than we
Do, but it don’t
Pay….

Jarrod: “Jack Hance told me
FDR said this: ‘Harness
Nature in accordance with her
Laws.'”
The men paused.
Said by Roosevelt, this might
Mean something.
He could be odd,
But you never knew….
Sun beat on their
Heads as they sat
Wordless.
Still no rain.
It was almost
Too late now to
Plant. Worried
Sick these past months,
They’d been. No
Avail.
Their hands lay now
Where they had since
Morning, on broad
Denim knees.
Lines at their eyes
Deepened. Bud scoffed:
“What-hell kind of
Harnessing is that?”

Now they noticed:
From a nearby
Store stepped Louise Kemp.
As she hastened
Her pace to get
Past them,
Silence fell.
In her wake, Bud
Spat.

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