83. After Dinner

Tom at the table,
Tallying. Mumbling
Over bills.
Riah asked, “Have you read
The paper?” Tom
Didn’t hear.
She was ironing
What was left
Undone: Louise just
Yesterday had come.
With the flatiron
She swayed, muscles
Tensing in her arms.
“Look here”: she stopped,
Picked the paper up.
“Roosevelt.
Gives a speech of
His at Gettysburg.”
“No”: James, from Tom’s
Chair, “that’s Lincoln.”
Tom scratched something
Out. “Tom, it’s
Roosevelt.”
“All right!”–pencil
Snapped–“Well? So what
Did he say?”–
Thomas took his
Penknife to the lead.

“Well–James, no, it’s not
Lincoln–”
Riah hated
For her son to listen.
She knew he read
Better than she
Could. “–But it’s
Gettysburg.”
At the column
She frowned, studying.
“He talks on George
Washington, something–
‘Strength of local,
Sectional and state
Prejudices'”–stumbling
On that word,
“How he toured
The colonies–” she rallied–
“Then,” her finger traced–
“Roosevelt,
Here he talks
About the Civil War.
But he’s calling it
The Brothers’ War.”
James made note of
This: “What’s that on
Brothers?”
“Oh, that’s all. Oh,
Wait–”
Tom was drifting.
Riah raised her voice:

          “‘We
            are all brothers now,
            brothers in–
            in new understanding….Grain
            farmers of the West,
            and the fertile
            fields of Pennsylvania–‘”
“Always hear that,”
Tom said, “‘fertile fields.’
Like to see that
State. They’ve got it
Made.”
“He says they do

           ‘not set themselves
           up for–for
           preference, if we
           seek, at the same time,
           to help cotton
           farmers of the South;
           nor–do tobacco growers–
           complain–‘”

“The hell they don’t.”

          “‘if at the same time, we
            help the cattle men
            of plains and mountains.'”

Tom whittled on.

          “‘In our
            planning to lift industry
            to normal prosperity,
            the farmer–
            he upholds our–efforts.
            And, as we
            seek to give the farmers–
            long-sought–equality,
            the city worker
            understands and helps.'”

Thomas seemed to
Add a couple sums.

          “‘All of us, among
            all the states, share
            in what good comes
            to the average
            man. We know
            we all have a stake–
            a partnership
            in the Government of this, our
            country.’

“He goes on….” she offered.

Tom’s lead snapped.
Riah slowly
Put away the paper.
She hated these
Scenes:
James pretending
Not to notice Thomas,
Who was staring
At his pencil point.
Then Tom dropped it,
Shook his head, and asked:
“What on earth?
What on earth is
That man thinking of?
What’s it mean?”: expecting
No answer.

Riah ironed.
James’ head bent down
Low, as if to read.
“It’s this pencil”:
Tom spoke, laughing softly.
“It don’t make no
Difference what I write.
Pencil makes it
Comes out that we’re
Licked.”

No one
Lifted eyes.

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