217. Storm, February 22 (Visibility 0 miles, Duration 11 hours)

She’d picked James up at school;
The students, laughing at the door,
Squealed when the duster gusted,
Building swayed.
Wind battered his frail body,
As he held onto his cap
And ran her way.

That boy in Hays.

The road home: dust
Smoked beneath the car
And swarmed inside. She lost
Sight of the radiator cap,
And could scarcely see James’
Face. The tires veered
Against the roadside ditch
While sparrows, panicked, hopeful,
Flocked the headlights, bodies
Thudding on the car.
The boy in–

They’d reached home, at last.
“Go to bed,” she’d told him,
And he had.
She’d rinsed his mouth,
And laid a cloth to breathe through
On his nose. Satisfied
That he was settled,
Riah dropped into her chair.
Windows, sash and sill,
Were stripped with paper
She’d cut to fit cracks.
The door was stuffed with rags.
The key was in the keyhole,
So the dirt could not
Drift through. Tom sat
Over at the table, not
On his chair, now covered
With a sheet–her plan:
The table, with an oilcloth,
To be wiped off precisely
Each half hour.

Each piece of food,
The flour, the meal,
Lay sealed up tight,
Container with a lid–and
Paper wrapped around,
Besides. The table
By the chairs, she’d coated
With a glossy slab, Patty’s
Piano wax. Its scent had
Filled the room–
Tom watched her oddly.
Peppered by dust, that table
Would not scratch.

Roof creak as it may,
And the house mumble,
They were safe as they
Could be. Riah was
Resolute: each
Stick of furniture she had
Pulled straight, to face
The other pieces squarely,
One on one. Her rug
Lay evenly between.
The clothes might fade to gray,
But they would keep, shut
Behind closet doors:
No longer clean,
But orderly.

Tom’s vacant chair was turning
Brown, as if the sheet were being
Sat on, grain by grain.
Don’t forget your prayers,
She’d said to James.
Will you listen? he had asked.
Rubbing her sore eyes,
She’d answered, no.
Now, of course, he disobeyed;
Not praying, he was
Singing, through the cloth
Across his face,
The twinkle song:

          How I wonder
          What you are.
          Up above the earth
          So high,
          Like a diamond
          In the sky–

          When the blazing
          Sun is gone,
          When it nothing
          Shines upon.
          Then you show
          Your little light.
          Twinkle, twinkle,
          All the night.

Riah rose to scold,
But sank back down.

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