8. Evening: December 15, 1933

The house was two rooms deep:
Sitting room, the kitchen,
Two bedrooms at the side.
They’d pulled up their chairs,
Tom and Riah. On the table,
Pencils whittled sharp,
Paper scraps
Thomas ciphered on;
Also, printed white sheets
James knew to be “the papers”
For the farm.
Crosslegged on the floor,
James stole lamplight,
Doodling on his pad.

“Trim that wick!
They don’t come free!
No use wasting.”
Dad’s mad, James thought, but–
I’m good today. James
Pricked his eraser with his thumb,
Crescent dents:
Surely, he was not at fault,
To blame.
Riah trimmed the wick,
And dimmed the light.
No one asked if he could see.

They were figuring–
What could it be?
James eyed Tom.
Tom wrote columns, numbers,
Growing stacks–
Plus signs, two dark strokes–
Bearing down hard
For the decimal marks.
Calculating once, twice,
Once again,
Pencil stub inched
Down the margin line.
Doublechecking totals–
Suddenly, Tom’s bony fingers
Scooped, crumpled up the page,
And made a wad.

Three more times James
Watched him wrestling numbers,
Scratching sums out,
Setting them aside.
In the end, a litter of tight balls.
All the space in front of Tom
Was blank.
Thomas held his pencil
In the air,
Looking vaguely off
Toward something far.
Then he said:
“We’re going to lose it.”

9 Responses to “8. Evening: December 15, 1933”

  1. Lisa Abraham Says:

    Love the rhyme in this one, the length of it, where it takes us.

  2. sshaver Says:

    Thanks, Lisa! Since this poem does not have the thick texture of most modernist/postmodernist poetry, I really liked your phrase “where it takes us” as suggesting another dimension of what poetry can do. And the shock of foreclosure, sadly, is something many families are experiencing right now.

  3. Frances Madeson Says:

    Interesting how Tom becomes Thomas when there’s bad news to deliver, as if he needed every one of the letters in his name in order to make his inevitable pronouncement. Guilty as charged, guilty of loss.

  4. sshaver Says:

    You know, I had never noticed that about that his name in this poem before. And you’ve touched on one of the most painful sore points of people living through the Depression: a crushing guilt. Irrational? Doesn’t matter.

  5. ninjanurse Says:

    You say so much in such spare language. James is very real.

  6. ninjanurse Says:

    Shelley, you might like Michelle Cooper, ‘Posting the Watch’. She’s a friend and a poet who gave ten years writing it. You and she have a feel for people living off the land.

  7. sshaver Says:

    Thanks for this suggestion–and what an honor for her that she has praise from Robert Pinsky.

    Doesn’t get any better than that.

  8. Richard Snider Says:

    Are you the Shelley Shaver from Lubbock, TX?

  9. sshaver Says:

    Yes: my world and welcome to it.

    And you must be Richard Snider the remarkable musician.

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