37. Hoping Out

“Mr. McKenna home?”
A tenant farmer,
Holes in his soft shirt,
Felt hat shapeless,
Shreds of overalls.

“He’s out back.
Won’t you come in?”
Careful to show politeness,
Riah smiled:
These folks spoke gently,
But their faces,
Masks. Even now, eyes
Trained on her, he
Watched for signs of
Impatience, dismissal.
“Ma’am, no thanks. Tell him
I’ll wait by his car.”
He withdrew.

Riah closed the door.
Pausing, she passed a hand
Across her eyes.
The noon air dried;
They stung. These
Discussions in the car
Would have to stop.
Once she’d been better off
Than these folks calling.
But the last crop brought in
Scratch. Her famous,
Long-lived garden,
Shriveled now.
They came to ask–
For one squash for a meal.
Lettuce head for a sick child.
Cup of beans.

And Tom gave dollars, sometimes;
She’d glance outside,
And there they’d sit, the two,
In the car, so no one heard.
They’d both gaze off,
Not at each other, as if
Driving down a road.
One would say,
“Mr. McKenna, I’m beholden,
And it’s good of you
To hope me out, it’s for
The kids I ask”–
That was true–
“I’ll be paying you next month.”
Next month, though, was hard.
They rarely paid. Were always
Mindful that they owed.

Behind the steering wheel,
Tom would speak little,
Ill at ease.
They came to him
Because of what he’d
Say: “That’s okay. You’d
Do the same for me.”

Riah thought,
It’s getting where
The food we give away
Comes from James’ mouth.
That’s not right.
But for him to have
Two helpings, when a person’d
Asked for one, and
Got turned down–
That’s not right.
Nothing’s right.

Tom walked in from the outhouse.
She nodded toward the door.
“Someone’s waiting in the car,”
Sitting there alone, face
Blank, staring ahead.
Thomas hitched his pants.
“Okay,” he said.

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