70. Duster Comes Up, May 4 (Visibility 2 miles, Duration 4 hours)

Dead silence.
Calm before the storm.
Riah sewing.

Then began a whisper
Like cats scratching,
Scrabbling at the windows
And the door.
Riah rose.
Go out, check the truck,
Shoo the chickens in the shed.
If there was a cow,
Which there’s not, thought Riah,
Lead her in.
She stepped out.

The wind riled up red
And tossed dust-devils.
Dirt-tufts in her mouth.
Hands cupped at her face:
“James!”
The mild anxious waiting.
Surely he’d get home all right.
They’d been hearing stories–
People lost.
These storms, got to where
Folks wheezed for breath.
The wind shot her dress back,
Skirt and sleeves.

Spatters, sand on glass.
At the window:
This one’s dark, she judged.
The sun cooled to copper,
Shrunken, tinier,
And finally withdrawn.
The wind started howling,
Her voice drowned.
Their plum tree, contorted,
Thrashed and clawed.
She wound up the wick,
Sat down in her chair,
Back at sewing, fingering
James’ shirt.
Son’s best shirt.
She held it to the light.
“Well. This is it,” she said.
“What?” Tom sat at the table,
Gazing vaguely
At the keyhole in the door.
Soon a mound of dust
Would form below.

Shirt, so worn in back
That it had ripped.
She couldn’t sew a patch
On that threadbare.
Overlap the halves?
It wouldn’t fit.
Scraps, she had no more,
No sheets or towels.
This, a warm shirt, flannel.
Couldn’t be thrown out.
Had to get some use,
Some good from it.

“Got to wear the thing
Just like it is.” Her voice
Echoed with surprise.
“He’s got to keep it.”
She held up the shirt,
Repeating, “Got to
Keep it. I can
Bind the edges, but–
It can’t be fixed.”

Outside, the wind roared.
Riah looked toward him.
Tom seemed not to hear.
Eyes on the keyhole dustpile
By the door.

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