71. Peace

          Step on a crack,
          Break your mother’s back,
          Step on a crack,
          Break your mother’s back.
There were no cement walks
Here in town.
Not like in the city,
He had seen. Nonetheless
James watched his step.
Wending his way home,
He hugged his books.
Homework, four to five.
Chores, five to six.
Then dinner. After dinner,
Check his rock collection,
Cardboard box with twelve
Compartments. James had
A schedule now. He’d
Drawn it, pinned it
Up against his wall.
Riah had observed
Newly methodical, he
Marched through all his paces
Day to day. Once a chatterer,
Now quiet boy.

Did they know
How seldom they spoke
Lately, James thought,
And was it by plan?
Ma and Dad knew best:
Silence is golden.
She would ask Tom
If he’d take some coffee–
Cheap fake kind–
Tom, curt, “No.”
Tom asked her: in town,
Hear such-and-such?
She’d say, “Yes.”
Tom would rant sometimes
On the day’s news–
How some men were stupid,
Or some rules, how
Farmers were ignored,
How things should be,
Be changed–
On and on till, overcome,
He left the room. James
Wanted them in one room:
Mustn’t talk.
Riah asked James
What he’d done in school.
He answered, “Nothing.”
He’d missed six on his test.
He must please them,
Bring a trophy home.

In his house
They all were careful now.
How loud voices got,
The words each chose–
All under thumb.
Each was cautious.
For that, James was glad.
In Matt’s house
Collisions, crashes came.
Matt’s mom spoke up,
Then his dad exploded,
Pelting mean words till she
Left in tears.
James and Matt would hear
From Matthew’s room. Strange,
Matt sided with his dad.
“She’s plain silly,” Matt said.

“Matt came by,” called Riah,
“Asked you to go shoot.”
That gun.
“I can’t,” James replied.
He sat by the kerosene
To watch his Diamond Rock,
Its glints and shine,
Chock-full of a thousand
Sparkly chips. A moth
Crossed his light.
He clamped its wings.
Riah passed through. “Smash it.
Eats the clothes.”
It flies, James thought,
Squinting his most scientific
Eye. I’m big, but
It flies.
He let it loose.

“Why can’t you go shooting?”
Tom inquired. James
Did not look up:
“Oh, that new boy, Barker.
Said I’d meet him next day
By the road.”
Good lie: Barker
Hardly could protest.
A weight fell from James’ chest.
He smiled cleverly.
The moth spiraled close.

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