73. Silent Storm, May 13 (Visibility 1 mile, Duration 5 hours)

When did Louise
Do her housework? She’d
Driven by again–“When do you
Do your laundry?” Riah’d asked.
“Got none.” Louise shrugged.
“Swapped my last dress
For some cigarettes.”
Riah frowned. Clothes
Were no joke.
“Glad I did.” Louise
Stretched her shoulders.
“But that’s it. No more
Coffin nails for me.
Can’t afford it. Have to quit.”
Riah offered no condolence.
Louise asked, “Bad habits?
You got none?”

That morning, Riah’d
Walked in from the field,
Backbone bent, clenched
In unseen tongs: she’d
Stooped too long. Now
She dumped the silverware,
A crash. Wiped it,
Then she’d sweep. But first:
Bake the angelfood
While there were eggs.
Scanning Riah’s drawn face,
Louise scolded, “Why the gloom?
Just another duster.”

Caught surprised,
Riah peered outside.
A dirt cowl had
Hooded the clear sky–
The yard darkened.
Chickens, nowhere to be seen.
Day had lost its light,
Yet wind was still.
Only sound to be heard
Was a sizzle–
Brown sizzle of air.
Mute descent: dust
Snowed mildly down.
Not a leaf twitched,
Not a branch
Disturbed. Murmurless,
Green gave itself
To brown.

Riah jammed her palm
Against her back. “Well,
What you got to say?” she asked
Louise, anxious for distraction,
Chatter, talk.
Riah lit the lamp
Where Louise sat.
At the dining table,
Louise leaned her curly head
Against her hand.
“Didn’t sleep.”
Riah, too vexed to hear.
Louise tried again:
“Saw your friends, Bea,
Patty, there in town.
What you see in those hens,
Riah poured the flour,
Cracked the eggs.
Louise said, “I mean, let’s
Say there’s you three there,
Eating cakes–”
“What do you say?
I meet them, can’t
Get the time of day.” Louise
Looked up from her chair.

Riah, in deep shadow
By the stove,
Dark hair, dusky face
Turned half-away.
The lamp flame flecked yellow,
Gilding yolks
She rocked from shell to shell.
“Well, we talk about–
What’s happening that week.
What the weather’s like.
Lend recipes.”
Louise hunched intently:
“Is that it?
That’s it?”
“Just–you know–
Normal things.” Louise
Looked oddly downcast.
“Oh. Those.”
Sandy patterns
Patched across the floor.

Slumping down,
Louise began to nod.
The last sight before her
As sleep fell:
Riah beating egg whites,
Glistening mass,
A dab on her cheek–
Sprinkled sugar–
Sweet spatula, licked clean
And laid by.
Chime of nested tin spoons,
Sift of flour,
Waft and splash, vanilla–
Bland waves lapped
Louise’s head. It
Sank, on the table
On her palm, the pale,
Freckled left arm
Tucked beside.
Red-reflected haze
Swam round her hair.
Lamplight rinsed it,
Bathed her shoulder,
Arm. Her fingers laid
Their crooked shadow down.

Over her,
With mixing bowl held close,
Riah for the first time
Broke her rule:
Get Louise out
Before Tom came home.
As dark deepened,
Riah kneeled to shake her.
She rose, silent:
Louise needed sleep.

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