198. In The Fields

Break the stubble up,
And plow it under.
Till the soil.
Plant the furrows.
Drill the seed in,
Watch for green.
Hope for rain.
Chop the cotton, cut it
Thin. When the weeds show,
Hoe them down.
Lay the field by.
Wait for blossoms,
Wait for bollies,
Count the days.
Weeks pass, blossom
To the boll–
Bolls break open.
Stoop. Crawl.
Pick the row clean,
Then the next,
Hands and knees.
Round your neck,
A bag to fill,
Though never full.
Pick. Crawl.
Night. Morning.
Then one day,
You’d made your crop.

How it used to be,
Thought Riah,
Crouching in the field,
And sucking stems of grass.
She harked back:
They had worked like
Mules–days tumbled into
Nights, and mornings–
Waking in dark
To grease the frying pan,
Send James out for eggs–
Tom milked, eyes
Barely open.
Stumbling, bumping,
Toting sacks, hoes
From the shed–
James, off to school,
Or off with them.
The climbing sun, the truck,
The tools….
Warm water from
The jar, They’d drunk as
Their reward for reaching
Ends of rows.
Twilight, they drove home,
Dozed in the truck.

And these days–
Why come back here,
Her and Tom?
She chewed her stem.
They could not stay away.
They’d drive out here, and
Wander. He’d find
Scraps and twigs
That blew in, and they’d
Stow them in the truck.
On one long walk
They’d found a shirt,
And once, a shoe….
The wind was rising now.
She wiped hair from her eyes,
And tossed the grass.
Mostly, they’d found
Nothing–dust-stripped
Driftwood, rabbit leavings,
Here and there, a tiny body,
Feather, fur.

The dirt wind skimmed her,
Scraping at her skin.
Riah squinted: where was
Tom? One moment
You could see the skyline;
In the next,
The dust could drop,
And leave you blind.

Makes monkeys of us all,
She thought. Or
Children. Keeps us
Ducking, dodging, guessing.

A sudden gust: her skirt
About her arms. She
Blushed, and grabbed it down,
And spat out grit.

Here came Thomas,
Hat in hand.
It looked like a rats’-nest–
Torn felt, sand.
His rangy, ready body,
Once so solid,
Swayed a bit,
Lightweight and frail.

Riah’s throat burned,
Her dress straining, wild.
Tom came up beside.
They scanned the field.
“I can’t believe–” said Tom–
He shrugged.
“I can’t believe
It’s done us all
This way.”

They headed home.

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