54. Opal Thinks

Riah’s scolding James, she thought,
And craned to see.
For sitting on the fender?
She smiled coldly. Who could
Notice such a thing?
I don’t even know
Where Nan and Ernest are.
Or the others–a few hours
Here in town–Baby–it’s here
In the truck with me?
She looked to see.
Yes, and crying, too. She hadn’t
Heard. Crying hard.
After this last young one
Had been born,
She’d started hitting–
Child here, child there, with
The cutting board, or
With her hand.
One day–had been hot,
They’d swarmed her knees
Like lice–she’d
Drawn blood. Lester, was.
After that
She learned the trick of not
To hear. She gazed down
At their squabbles
Through a fog
With a glass of water, in
The kitchen chair.
“Can’t be cured, must be
Endured,” Grannie’d said.

But Riah, James, and Tom….
Opal shrugged. They
Seemed to have such–
Room. Walking errands,
Store to store. Riah, with her
Questioning mild face
You could see think–
James, with his mother’s stare
And father’s color, alongside,
Ear cocked, his two cents in.
Some folks looked on
Sour at the three:
Riah half-run the farm,
Didn’t keep it quiet,
Neither. Spoke up
Bold as a crow.
And Tom let her.
‘Cause her daddy’d
Owned the place? Opal thought,
Not that.
The men exchanged sly glances,
And they laughed at Tom, when
They were feeling good–
Before the storms.
Lately, frowned–don’t
Feel so good no more.

Stirring in discomfort,
Opal wondered:
Where was Ed?
How many hours now?
O my aching back: it was
A joke. The comics said it
On the radio.
Her back, the only pain
That still crept through.
She could not yet escape.
But she’d learn how–
To lose this, too, she thought,
Eyes on lap:
Opal Was Here.
I’ll be gone
Like Nan’s white plaster doll
Lester’d dropped
Into the trough.
Face melted off it
With a bending smile.
The arms and legs dissolved
As Nan had screamed.
But Opal’d gazed, entranced.
In the truck seat,
She relaxed.

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