194. Riah On The Porch

She frowned and shrugged,
Impatient at herself.
Why see it now?
I must not think….
But there it was again,
In her mind’s eye.
It had cloth limbs,
The same plump rounded arms
That she had touched,
Up on the cart.
And pantaloons, lace-trimmed,
Stitched with a rose.

It had a china smile.
The face shone creamy,
Bird’s-egg smooth.
Eyes, lashes, dark
Like mine, remembered Riah.
Stroked on singly, blackly,
With a brush.

I had for a doll
A block of wood–
We all did, then–
Oh, corn-cobs, some.
And they worked fine, holes
Whittled in, for nose and
Eyes. We swaddled them
In old torn diapers, stuck
With pins.

That year had been a hard one.
They’d took me out of school–
They had to–for
The boys were small,
And sure they needed
Looking after,
Hoeing-time. Can’t
Leave wee babes alone,
Mama had said.

They promised me that doll.
All else, it made up for.
But when the drummer
Came around again, his
Cart and goods,
The doll was gone.
“We couldn’t bought it
Anyway”: Ma said it? Dad?
Sir, where is that doll
Who has the face?
He hardly heard me.
“Couldn’t bought it anyway.
Pick you a treat.
What else you want?”
Nothing.
She had been
A stubborn girl.

She stood on the front porch,
Broom in hand.
Lordy:
Here it comes,
Another storm.
The wind plucked at her skirt.
She slapped it down, crossly,
Unlike her. Could you
Believe it? And the air’d
No sooner cleared! And
The house no sooner swept!
It was not….

Louise’s voice was in her ears.
“Folks are always making deals,
With God,” Louise had told her.
“‘Dear God: Remember
How bad last year was?
We didn’t squawk a peep.
Time for a good turn,
Right? Sincerely yours.’
Or: ‘Dear God: see this here
You done to me, it’s
Pretty lousy. But
I’ll put up with
This–just don’t do
That. Agreed?
So, here’s my X
On the dotted line.’
Happy as a sow in mud,”
Louise smiled, “but there’s
One catch–
God don’t sign.”

She’d put her finger
On it, Riah thought.
This felt like a broken
Promise–a new season
Of these storms. It was
Too much. Not–
“Fair?” Louise had
Laughed.
They’d all been
So patient, though.
Done their best.
And here it came again,
That damn grit
Crackling in her teeth.
Call James:
Stuff the windows:
Get inside.
“No promises,” Louise said.
“Just the ones folks make
To one another–and
Break ’em, and
Make ’em,
Fast as we can.”

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