298. Story

Louise was settling back,
And stroking Riah’s hair
Distractedly, as if
She were alone.
The kerosene lamp
Flickered, lost its flame.
Louise made no move;
Tom kept his place.

The candles fluttered shadows
On her face, black butterflies
That damped her eyes
And masked her mouth.
Louise seemed miles away,
A ghost, a dream: it
Came to Tom how present
She had been, at other
Times, how here
And in the flesh–he’d felt
Her body’s weight, now
Vanished into air.

“That was the hottest
Damn room.”
Her voice shocked him,
Earthen, raw.
“Fifty, sixty people
Crowded in that roadhouse.
They’d stoked up a giant fire.
Roar of it rang
In our ears. Up on
The platform, in
The corner, these old fiddlers
Stood up, scraping
Something furious, boots
Stomping, calling square dance
All night–midnight,
One, two….
Till folks was drifting off,
The dance broke down.
But dozens people stayed,
Danced their own way.
We’d grab hands
In threes or more
Beneath those fiddlers, screeching,
Bowstrings popping loose,
Rosin sifting like perfume
Through all our hair, our noses,
Hanging in a cloud….

“And folks high-stepping–
Hay spread underneath
For dancing, and I swear,
They threshed it! With
Their feet. Beneath their
Boots, they ground it down
So fine, it smoked.
So there we was,
A yellow haze,
And all us dancing,
Hooking elbows,
Our feet pounding,
While that hay-chaff
Smoked up, stuck like
Pollen, gold, to arms and
Legs, while we was sweating,
Gleaming, hot….

“And my heart,
My heart was racing.
I had never danced so good.
Came over me–my
Legs just started moving,
On their own, and it was
Right! They wouldn’t,
Couldn’t do no wrong,
Swinging this way,
Swaying that way–once I
Jumped a table! Clean,
Smooth as you please.
That fiddling
Shot straight in me
Like I’d swallowed it,
My heart was pumping
Sound, my head went
Round and round,
It was like liquor does,
But all myself!
The tune had got me,
Like folks get religion,
And shriek, pray.
And it had took my body,
Leapt so high!
Dancing filled me,
Like God’s grace–

“And them all clapping,
Every one in time–
I was their joy, they
Twirled me here and there,
And they could see
The change: all
Mixed up, with
The music,
I’d become.”

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