290. An Appearance

Louise bathed Riah’s face.
There’s lots of things
That helps, she thought.
But only one thing
Saves: that’s pure, dumb
Luck. It’s dumb luck.
Theirs broke
When that boy walked off
To plow.

Without a word,
The women brought fresh
Cloths. Riah, coughing,
Louise propped her up–
At that,
Above the wind, they
Heard commotion
On the porch. The stamp
Of footsteps–
That’s the Stewarts,” someone said.
“They ain’t in yet.”
The door burst open,
Mr., Mrs. Stewart, yes:
In between them,
A short bundle,
Wrapped in jacket,
On two feet.
They unwound it.

There stood James.

In the rush
With people shouting,
Falling forward,
Pushing in to see, to touch,
To grasp, exclaim, still
They kept in mind to
Separate, to let
Tom through–and to
Draw back, with respect.
He embraced his son,
And checked him,
Running hands all up and down
The skinny body, fingers
On the grimy face–
He seemed okay–

“Well, it’s the damnedest thing,”
Said Mr. Stewart.
“We was driving in,
And there, lo and behold
Beside the road,
This man, who flagged us down–”
“It was not,” said his wife.
“So ‘course, we stop.
And he has James here
In his arms–
The boy’s passed out–
The man says–”
“No, it was
A woman”: Mrs. Stewart.
“Well, it’s hard to tell,
All muffled in wool scarf
And coat,
And it pitch dark,
This big man–”
“He was black,
A woman,” said his wife.
“So he says, ‘Can you take him?
I’m just passing through.’
So I says to him, ‘Sure.
You need a ride?’–
It was the dirt, hon,
Made him black–”
“Made her black.
It was not.”
“He says–”
“She says–”
My truck’s here.'”
“Well, you got that right”–
“It’s blue.
He was all hidden,
Head to toe–”
“She had a wooden leg.”
“Hon, how could you see
That? Hid from the wind.
You couldn’t see.
And here we are.”

And only now
They heard the voice:
“For lawsy sake,
You lame brains,
Bring him here!
Right here!”

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