“I checked her pulse an’ she’s breathin’ okay
but I caint wake her up.” Realizing
that the urgency in homemaker’s voice
was real he shoved himself away
from the cramped dinette table in the trailer
he used as an office. Gusts shaking
the eucalyptus skittered leaves and rain
against his face as he fought to keep
from slipping through the backyard mud.
The homemaker followed, wheezing
as she always did from too many cigarettes.
“Best we telephone an ambulance,” she hacked.
For a moment, pausing in the bedroom doorway,
he thought his mother was floating above the bed
she seemed so fragile, so calm. But her face felt
chill to his touch and twists of gray hair
that the homemaker tried to keep curled
hung slack over her forehead. “Go ahead, call.”
Abruptly, on the sixth or seventh
I lose sun-slanted
afternoon. The boxes
—books and clothes
and kitchen things—
are dusty bags of unculled nuts
and I hear
raucous Okie shouts.
“Hey! What'samatta' Stout?
Too much wahine
crappedyer nuts?” I grunt;
I wince; I turn and bleat,
‘cause you’re all dried up?”
and forge ahead. Ten hours
hefting huller sacks
(six days a week)
I'm chest and biceps, tree-trunk
legs and sunburned ears.
“Are you all right?”
I snap—inside my head.
Then tell my wife, “These boxes,
really…pretty light…” but feel
the sweat—both his and mine—
tickle my gray beard.
From a hill atop the quarry
he watched his wife
tote slabs of stone
that he knew would wind up
in their storage shed,
unused and forgotten.
A metaphor, he thought
of the seventeen years
they’d been together
—he watching, she collecting
things that she’d throw away
like him, sooner or later.
Fiction and poetry by Robert Joe Stout has appeared in The South Dakota Review, Interim, Buffalo Spree and New Orleans Review, among other magazines. His novel Running Out the Hurt just has been issued by Black Rose Books. He also has published the creative nonfiction The Blood of the Serpent: Mexican Lives and the nonfiction Why Immigrants Come to America. He lives in Oaxaca, Mexico.