39. Building

James sat in shade,
Back of the tractor shed.
Dust whitened his brown toes.
The day was not quite warm, as Riah’d
Said, but he always went
Capless, barefoot here.
In reverence,
He pledged the Ralston Pledge:
“I promise
To shoot straight with myself,
To always strive to beat
My best, to keep my mind
Keen and alert, and body
Strong and healthy.”
He took a breath.
“I promise
To shoot straight with Tom Mix,
And eat three bowls of Ralston
Every week….” James stopped.
Mama had said
Ralston cost too much:
He’d ate eggs.

James roused himself,
And sat up on his knees.
He held a piece of paper,
Left from school,
An oak twig, nearly straight,
A pin, stole from Mama–
She had lots.
From his pockets
He fished out his knife.
He smoothed the paper
Flat against the ground.
At its corner,
He cut halfway in;
It ripped some. He cut
From the second corner,
Third, and fourth.
Stiff paper would be better.
James frowned.
He took out a pencil stub,
And marked a dot
Dead-centered in the sheet.
One by one,
The corners were picked up–
Pressed into a pinwheel-shape
By thumb. His knees
Held up the stick.
The silver pin
Pricked through the pencil dot.
He mashed it in.

Lately, James had not been
Feeling good–
Stayed in the outhouse
Long, till he got done.
The garden dead,
No yams, and fruit was dear.
Matt had made some joke
About folks moving.
James thought, Matt don’t know
Trucks don’t have room.
James’ rubberband gun, say,
They’d make him leave.
He’d shot his eye with it
The other day, misfire–
But Mama got mad.
They’d make him leave
The marbles. God knows–
A grown-up phrase–
He had just five, ten
Traded for this knife.
But would he have no say-so–
Here he paused–he’d not
Be left? Surely he could go?
He’d be allowed?
He put the thought aside.
If they didn’t, he ‘d creep
On the car,
Hanging, as he’d seen
In picture shows.

“James! Where are you, James?”
It never failed.
Just as he near-finished–
“James!”
“Well, diddly shoot!” he said,
Disgusted. Dinner!
He dug a hole,
And wedged the stick in tight.
It stood straight. Next,
He scraped out a hollow
With his hand–
A tank. He spat:
It glistened wet.
“James!”
“Coming–” but he lingered,
Watched his windmill
Catch the breeze.
It whirred. It worked okay.
“I said, coming!”
He pocketed the knife
Safely away.

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