51. Money Matters

Riah found that she was staring,
Evenings, at the corners of the room,
Dubious, as if
They might contract.
Sunday nights, especially,
She and Thomas
Had to sit to plan.
They parceled dimes and quarters.
Lately pennies, once just
Pocket change, were gathered up.
A little paper cash.

Old men playing
Dominoes in town, squinting
At their tiny slabs of wood,
Tallying white dots, craning their
Necks, taking endless turns,
Deliberated no less somberly
Than Riah, Tom, at table.
Coins were shifted
With intense debate.
A nickel moved
Might mean beans all next week,
No salt pork.
They ate beans now
Till they couldn’t taste them,
Swallowed bean-paste down their throats
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday…
A dime
Pushed from clothing into food:
Another week of cardboard
In James’ shoe,
“Can’t keep cardboard in
To save his sole–”
She smiled wanly at Tom’s joke,
Told often now.

The piles of little metal–
The gaunt-faced penny,
Stern Indian-head–
Riah saw anew. Amazed,
She fingered them,
Rubbed the smooth hump
On the buffalo:
What they could do!
They were magic.
If an empty space appeared–
No coins,
No clothes.
Such, the power
Of the little piles.
Quarters for the grocery-store
Had shrunk. No more coffee.
Flour, scarce.

Weekly the stacks waned.
The one that stayed the same,
Because it must, the mortgage,
With its lush green bills,
Looked grossly well.
When she, eating beans, resented
This, Riah felt
Disloyal to the farm. Each
Sunday seemed a muscle in her back
Hitched a tighter notch
While she sat straight.
She ached, till at last
They left the table:
Tiny silver castles,

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