9. December 15: It Gets Late

Riah took the pencil.
“That can’t be.
Show me. What about
The plow-up money?”
“Plow-up money’s gone.”
They hashed over payments,
Cotton prices, mortgage, bills,
The lamp paled
As Riah scribbled down.
They scrambled figures,
Twisting this and that.
“What if.”
In the end
They only had more trash.

Tom’s eye fell on James,
Who pretended not to listen,
Sitting still.
Tom turned on him:
“Well, that wind-up train
You asked for Christmas,
You better cross that off.”
“Yes sir.”
“We’ll buy oranges,
And that candy too.
But that train,
You forget it.”
“Yes sir.”
Riah interrupted.
“Here’s what we forgot:
Government money.
Ought to come in soon.”
“And pennies from heaven,”
Thomas said–“Why not
Hope for that?”
James held his breath:
Dad never talked this way.

Riah started adding:
“You all said the same thing
With the plow-up.
The plow-up money came.”
“They paid us for a job.”
“For killing cotton.
Roosevelt won’t pay for us
To idle land.
Bad land.”

Riah’s pencil stopped.
“The land’s not bad.”
“Not compared to what
It’s going to be,
The rains don’t come.
We let land lay idle,
And get paid?
Not drought land.”
Tom held up a headline.
Roosevelt was smiling
From his car. “They don’t
Care the farmer’s going broke.
Why start now?
They won’t mail a check,
It don’t make sense.”
“Paid us to kill cotton.”
“Makes no sense.”
Riah shook her fist:
“We signed a contract.
We did what we said.
We didn’t plant this year.
They got to pay.”
She insisted, “It’s
Good all around.
We all leave some fallow,
Then plant, land’s fresh,
Crop price climbs.
We break even. Next year.
Or the next.”
“Contract! I’ll get payments
Not to plant?
Can’t plant, anyhow!
There’s no drought out east.
What if they plant?
They’ll have the last laugh.
Who’s to see to it
They keep this ‘contract’?”
“The President.”
“Sell us down the river.”
Thomas’ face was working:
“Sure. Sure.
Then the market glut lets up.
What if the check comes?–
But if it don’t?
This is the damnedest–”
His voice was strange,
“James, go on
To bed now,” Riah said.

It had gotten late.
They needed sleep.
Riah wiped the sink out
In the kitchen.
Tom pulled off his shoes.
She picked up the lamp,
And passed James’ room.
James in bed
Was singing to himself:

     We’ll perch ourselves
     On his backbone
     And eat his eyeballs
     One by one,
     And they all flapped their wings
     And cried,
     ‘Caw, caw, caw!’

Riah sighed.
“James! Can’t you
Find a nicer song?”

2 Responses to “9. December 15: It Gets Late”

  1. philipparees Says:

    Another reason to comment…so clever poetry about politics! Not often attempted since Shelley

  2. sshaver Says:

    I’ll respond to this and your other kind comment on my Welcome page.

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