92. Monday at the Red and White

“Soup line
There in Waco.
Seen it.” Mr. Patterson,
Just back from
There. “That
Right?” They stirred,
Ready for a story.
Used to, they could
Gather only weekends.
Summer, busy season.
Now, just stunted
Plants to chop and hoe,
Cotton sprouting
One month late in
Sand. No
Farming to be
Done, for nothing
Grew.

Damp shirts chafed their
Skin with every shrug.
Still as lizards,
In the sun they blinked.
Patterson’s gray eyebrows
Came down sharp.
“Lowest bunch of lazy
No-count misfits, ever
Hope to see.”
“Line’s how long?”
“Why, it winds way
Down the street–”
Arm out, and sweat
Tumbling from his cheeks. “City
Fellas–look like
Never up and
Worked a blessed day.
Hands like girls.”
Tom picked calluses. Burt
Wiped his palms.
“Some there,” Mr. Patterson,
“Why–they sit all
Laughing on the curb.
Cracking jokes.
Think they’s waiting
For the picture show.”
They shook heads. Tom
Thought, the photo in
The paper’s not like that.
From the camera, those men,
Thin-faced, looked away.

“Tell you what,” one said,
“Don’t set well with
Me to pay my taxes,
Serving steaks to
Hobos on the curb.”
“Oh, that Waco
Soup line,” Thomas offered,
“Church runs that.”
Instantly he
Felt he had spoke wrong.
The men just
Ignored him and went on.

And now up walked
Bud, and right there
With him, County Agent.
“Shameful,” Curtis spoke.
“Met my brother?
Owns a grocery store
Yonder in Muleshoe.
Says they stroll in
There with Relief money,
And get–you can’t feature.
Saw one, his own eyes,
Buy a T-bone
And a Hershey’s bar.”
They had all heard
Likewise: woman
Wearing fur,
Or boy in a roadster,
Buying steak with
Money from Relief.

“Jack, up there at
County office,
You all heard of
This?” Their sharp eyes
Turned to his.
Jack seemed to be
Musing in his head,
With that Won’t-Say
Look that made them mad.
“Nope. All the weeks I’ve
Watched, just one guy
Tried it. Threw him out.”
Bud knew plenty:
“It’s just like you’d
Think. If folks don’t
Have to work to eat, why,
They won’t work!
Roosevelt, he
Shut the banks,
Fixed them, then he
Opened them, done good.
And those payments
Not to plant the land, that’s
Fair. But now
Government, it
Needs to get on
Out! Those business
Presidents, why, they
Should run the game! Just
Like before. But
Now–bums on the dole!
Why,” exclaiming,
“In this country, should be
Sink or swim!
Any man who wants
Can pay his way.”

The men shifted
Legs uneasily.
“Least,” one said, “man
On Relief, he ought to
Want to work.”
Heartily agreed:
“That’s right.”
“Soup line fellas
Never even tried.”
“Rather sit.”
At this Mr. Patterson
Arose: “Well,
Back to hoeing.
Crop won’t make
Itself. Like they
Say: sweat, or be
Swatted.”

The men
Nodded.

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