36. Planning

In her mind
She’d packed the truck a hundred times.
The mattress on top, tied–
Two chairs, for her and Tom,
They must rope firm.
A plate for each of them–
She thought briskly, there’s no
Reason to take more–
Plates were cheap,
She had a stack of six.
The two quilts, and the extra,
The two sheets, small one James’.
Clothing must all come,
She was resolved–
Wearing thin,
And could not be replaced.
If it got cold, she figured,
She could pile clothes on James,
And underneath him, too,
To keep him warm.

With the thought of James,
The thought of school.
There’d be none.
With Tom, her, on the road.
They should teach,
But they could scarcely read.
James must not fall behind.
Always, the rehearsal of her plan
Would falter here–
Lost the snug efficiency
That soothed her mind
When Tom talked debts.
There seemed no answer;
Yet there must be one.

The Hendersons had left town
Last November. Likely
The old couple’d sat with pencils,
Night to night, as we do,
Riah thought. In the end,
There had been no escape.
They took their farm. Oh,
Nice enough, they gave
Two months to move.
On the last day,
Riah happened by.
Mrs. Henderson, she
Wasn’t acting right.
Wandered to and from the house,
And to the car.
Came with an empty teacup
In her hand,
And perched it on the dash.
Rushed inside,
Then back out with a cushion
Off a couch they had to leave–
Brought a vase–
Laid it on the seat.
She muttered puzzling words.
When Riah waved at her,
She smiled back vaguely,
Eyes unclear,
Hair trailing from her hat.
Despite help from Riah,
She forgot some items
That she should have packed:
Sweater, and the portrait
Of the girls.
Riah, in the house, tried
Not to spy. Mrs. Henderson
Had bumped, knocked down a chair.
She walked off,
Not righting it again.
Of course there was no need,
Since they were moving.
The chairs stayed, but still–
To leave it lay!
The house, stripped, bedraggled,
Looked like Sherman’s army
Came. The car, stuffed with
Every crazy thing.
And Mrs. Henderson, as Riah knew,
No scatterbrain.

Not me, Riah thought.
Not me.
For after all,
She’d seen hard times before….
She hesitated.
Riah shook her head.
But not like this,
With everyone swept in,
So that none could help,
Not friends, or kin,
But only watch each other
Going down. Help
Load the car.
All right, she thought, it’s
True. A person might miss
One payment too many, and they
Turned you off your land.

But not to me. Can’t happen,
Not to me,
She thought, the hundredth time:
Nor have to pack.
Nor lose James out of school.
Nor leave my pictures.
Nor forget my plans.

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