80. House Call

Pushing through
The frayed tar-paper flap,
Making faces
At the smell inside,
Louise entered,
Dragging a black bag.
She stepped into
Something, kicked
A hen: “Sonny!
Reckon you could
Have this friendly
Chicken leave her
Stinking gifts out
In the chicken shed?”
A small naked boy
Clutched at the hen.
He stared.

“This here, it
Is the shed”–boy’s mother.
Louise glanced about:
Yes, so it was.
“–Chicken shed. And that
White hen, layer there–your
Pay. Kick your
Pay, that’s fine.”
Louise thought:
Layer? Liar. Before
That bald bird lays eggs,
I will.

Louise asked, “You
Sent? Got some sick
Child here?”
“Where’s the doctor?”
Flat tone of demand
Impressed Louise.
Gall, she thought.

“Doc,” she said,
“Has him a poor
Memory for house calls,
Homes of folks who ain’t
Paid last six bills.”
“Got the hen.”
“Oh yeah. Well, we’ll
See. Office
Crammed clean full,
Sacks of cabbage,
Corn. Just rots away.
Now the man says:
Cash. He can’t buy
Supplies with turnip
Tops. Well…I’ll cook
Something fancy for him
With this hen.
Keep your fingers crossed
He likes the dish.
Who’s sick?”

Pointing at the boy,
The woman said:
“You let go that
Hen.” The boy
Obeyed. Louise
Laid her broad palm
On his body. Her hand
Spanned his chest.
Stepping up, the mother:
“Tore leg.
You got pills?”
“You got soap?” Louise snapped,
“Will he let me
Touch? That cut’s
“He’ll do
What I say.”
“This will hurt”: Louise,
To the boy. He
Nodded, mute.
She knelt to him,
Rummaging for cotton,
Near the pinched wound
Pressing, swabbing pus.

Moving closer
In, the mother
Watched. Louise, keeping
One eye on the boy’s
Face, for the pain–
He’d not yell–
Working steady,
Gently on the leg, said:
“So. How’d you happen
Way out here? You
Sound South.” The woman
Spoke, reluctant: “Was in
Georgia, croppers.
Owner there, he
Got his Roosevelt money.
He told us it
Paid him not to
Plant. He kept
The check. He said
We owed our share. Cut his
Land back, turned us
Off. We came
Here to hoe.
No crop.”

Acrid stopper
Pulled out from thin vial:
Louise poured out
Dark red disinfectant.
Boy’s leg jerked,
But the boy sat
Still. “You got
Pills?” the woman asked.
“You got
Soap?” Louise shot back.
“It’s soap that keeps them
Well, food, water, sun–
We got sun, God
Knows.” In this
Stifling shack, her
Curls had come unraveled,
Straggling flat. She asked,
“They eat greens?”
“Sent them to Hines’
Pasture. Told them,
Trail the cow.
What she don’t eat,
Don’t. Cow knows
Poison weeds.”

Louise bandaged,
Then rose from her
Knees. “Sonny,
Take it slow.
Can you put that
Chicken in the car?”
The boy limped
Away. She turned
To the mother:
“Take this.”
From her purse she
Pulled a cake of soap.
“And you wash that
Leg three times a day.
I’ll tell him you paid, so
He’ll send me back.”

“What’s this
Say?” Soap in
Hand, the woman
Eyed the picture
On the pink soap wrapper:
Black contraption,
Windmill with no
Top. Louise, packing
Cloths, said curtly:
“Never mind.”
But the woman
Would not be put off.
“What’s this say?”

“Says, if you must
Know,” a blush rose
In discomfort
To Louise’s cheeks,
“Says, ‘A Night In Paris.'”
“Paris, the word
Paris! Christsake,
It’s a name–like
Jell-o, Ford!”
Louise swept her
Things up and swooped
To the tar-flap,
Anxious now
To leave:
“You don’t like it?
Well then, give it

“No. I’ll take it–”
And the woman
Slipped it in her dress.
She called, “Tansy!
Theodore, you,
Help Mark to put
Snowball in that car!”
Tansy made some
Signals with her hand,
Signals Louise
Did not comprehend.
As the older
Blonde boy trapped the hen,
Louise scuffed her
Shoes clean in
The sand.

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