27. Louise Thinking

What’s that flat brown toad-eyed little
Dark-skinned, half-wit
Excuse for a woman
Want with me?

At her kitchen table
Louise sat,
Its game leg
Wedged up with magazines.
She had a few spools out,
And a dress heaped on her lap,
Loose in her hands.

Her! Louise thought.
And that husband, too,
Got his land through her–
Cracker, sure, they call them
Where I’m from.
Pasty-faced clay-eater.
Her! Says to me: “Got
Something in your hair.”
In my hair, my eye.
Something in your hair, my dear,
Comanche hair, chestnut
Horsetail-hair like no one’s worn
For years. Keep your
Mitts off mine.
Watch out! I’ll tell you
A thing or two.

Maddened, Louise
Poked thread at her needle,
Pierced the eye.
She had sewn one bad dress,
One bad only, in her life–
She’d seen then
It wasn’t right, the neck–
But she’d had to wear it.
Louise frowned. And
They had to see, of course–
Patty Hines came
Sidling up in town,
Sweet as you please: “What
A nice dress, Mrs. Kemp.”
Others nearby smiled
And turned away.
Likely Miz McKenna, Choctaw
Princess, had been one.
Now Louise’s head
Began to fill with tales,
Old grievances and slights–
They poked heads from coffins,
Back to haunt.
With a vengeance,
Louise stitched:

One more piddle-headed,
Pop-eyed bitch, this Riah,
Looks like that Tom squeeze her
So hard nights, she’s down to ribs–
God knows why he’d want–
Laughing, Louise smoothed her dress
Against her breast.
She was sewing fast,
In rhythm, rapid, perfect,
Down the hem.
“How come I scarcely see you
Around here?” she mimicked,
In a mincing voice.
A trick question
If she’d ever heard one:
Smell it miles away.
She means, thought Louise,
“How come you ain’t got money
Or the friends to get to town?
Can’t buy gas?
Can’t catch a ride?”
I’ll tell you something, honey–
Louise sniffed–
Better worry ’bout yourself–
How your friends talk
Blue streaks when you get called
Names, big tractor-driving lady,
Not a soul stood up for you.
This gave Louise relief,
And she sat back.
Her fingers felt good, right
And accurate, tacking cloth
Expertly down. She
Stretched, speculating:

Ignorant as piss about eyelashes.
Ignorant, can’t shut a wise-mouth up.
Born yesterday, McKenna.
Even ignorant–here Louise
Smirked–of what Patty Hines
Would surely say
When Riah shared a car
With Louise Kemp.
Here’s to ignorance!
She raised her hand to toast:
Let them all pick
At each other’s bones. It’s
No skin off my nose.

The table wobbled. Louise slipped,
Got pricked.
She kicked the mound of magazines
She studied for new styles.
“Ruined, ruined, wrecked!” she
Shrieked, livid–blood spot
On her skirt–
She clenched tight in a rage,
All joy a sham–
Roof had caved in,
As it always did–

“No offense”–
Those were Riah’s words
As Louise had packed her purse,
Galled, with no sale.
“No offense intended,” Riah’d said,
Eyes so guileless, pained,
Louise could not mock her now,
Although she tried; Riah’s
Face washed through her,
Her voice trailed.
Elbows on the table, knuckled
White, her fingers
Clamped the dress.
“Whoo, I’m tired,” she thought,
Taking a breath.
“It’s hard to sew today.”
She held the needle,
Staring thoughtfully.
“If she’s not straight with me,”
She said, “I’ll stab her
Through the eye, right clean,
With this.”
She jabbed the air.
She rose to go and try
Rinse out the stain.

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