223. At the Red and White: Storm, February 28 (Visibility, 1 1/2 miles, Duration, 9 hours

“I don’t hold with women
Unsexing themselves.
I’ll swan–
Some are bold!” The man
Looked straight at Tom.
Tom waited, for the group
To change the topic, someone
Shunt the words away.
No one did.
These men–his friends?–
Had let a stranger challenge–
Just a salesman,
Passing through….But where
Had that man heard it? Sure,
From them.
Angrily, Tom reddened.

What did they want?
What was he doing wrong?
Nothing he could
Put his finger on:
Something in how
He and Riah shopped;
Something, how they farmed;
Mostly, though, that God-damned
Louise Kemp.
“That’s right,” Tom responded
To the man.
The moment died.

I done told her and
Told her, Thomas thought.
He’d said nothing,
But he’d told her,
Right enough. “Have a good
Day?” he’d ask Riah
Pointedly, when he knew well
Who’d been there.
Always, he knew:
Riah’s shoulders said it,
Square and stubborn,
And the cool efficiency
With which she cooked, while
Feeling his displeasure–
Riah was no secret-keeper, never,
Not to save her soul.

What’s her big
Excuse?, Tom asked. Loud
Woman with a lousy
Reputation, not received
In any home in town,
Married to an ornery drunk
Who fouls his land.
This one, his wife
Chose? This, the woman
Whose stockings she’d
Mended–tiny stitches–by
Lamplight, in Monday’s storm?
Yes, he’d seen: made it
His business to.

Silent, the men
Stood against the store.
Cheeks and hands were
Chafed red by the wind
And peeled back
To soft under-skin.
Trying not to squirm,
They clasped their knees
And shifted, seeking
Some relief:
But there was none.

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