Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse

On Stage
When I point my fingers at the keys, the music springs straight out of me.
Right hand playing notes sharp as tongues, telling stories while the smooth buttery rhythms back me up on the left.
Folks sway on the Palace aisles grinning and stomping and out of breath, and the rest, eyes shining, fingers snapping, feet taping.
It's the best I've ever felt, playing hot piano, sizzling with Mad Dog, swinging with the Black Mesa Boys, or on my own, crazy, pestering the keys.
That is heaven.
How supremely heaven playing piano can be.
January 1934
Hope in a Drizzle
Quarter inch of rain is nothing to complain about.
It'll help the plants above ground, and start the new seeds growing.
That quarter inch of rain did wonders for Ma, too, who is ripe as a melon these days.
She has nothing to say to anyone anymore, except how she aches for rain, at breakfast, at dinner, all day, all night, she aches for rain.
Today, she stood out in the drizzle hidden from the road, and from Daddy, and she thought from me, but I could see her from the barn, she was bare as a pear, raindrops sliding down her skin, leaving traces of mud on her face and her long back, trickling dark and light paths, slow tracks of wet dust down the bulge of her belly.
My dazzling ma, round and ripe and striped like a melon
July 1934
The Accident
I got burned bad.
Daddy put a pail of kerosene next to the stove and Ma, fixing breakfast, thinking the pail was filed with water lifted it, to make Daddy's coffee, poured it, but instead of making coffee, Ma made a rope of fire.
It rose up from the stove to the pail and the kerosene burst into flames.
Ma ran across the kitchen, out the porch door, screaming for Daddy.
I tore after her, then, thinking of the burning pail left behind in the bone-dry kitchen, I flew back and grabbed it, throwing it out the door.
I didn't know.
I didn't know Ma was coming back.
The flaming oil splashed onto her apron, and Ma, suddenly Ma, was a column of fire.
I pushed her to the ground, desperate to save her, desperate to save the baby, I tried, beating out the flames with my hands.
I did the best I could.
But it was no good.
Ma got burned bad.
July 1934
My father's sister came to fetch my brother, even as Ma's body cooled.
She came to bring my brother back to Lubbock to raise her as her own, but my brother died before Aunt Ellis got here.
She wouldn't even hold his little body.
She barely noticed me.
As soon as she found my brother dead, she had a talk with my father.
Then she turned around and headed back to Lubbock.
The neighbor women came.
They wrapped my baby brother in a blanket and placed him in Ma's bandaged arms.
We buried them together on the rise Ma loved, the one she gazed at from the kitchen window, the one that looks out over the dried-up Beaver River.
Reverend Bingham led the service.
He talked about Ma, but what he said made no sense and I could tell he didn't truly no her, he'd never even heard he play piano.
He asked my father to name my baby brother.
My father, hunched over, said nothing.
I spoke up in my fathers silence.
I told the reverend my brother's name was Franklin, like our President.
The women talked as the scrubbed death from our house.
I stayed in my room silent on the iron bed, listening to their voices.
"Billie Jo threw the pail," they said.
"An accident," they said.
Under their words a finger pointed.
They didn't talk about my father leaving kerosene by the stove.
They didn't say a word about my father drinking himself into a stupor while Ma writhed, begging for water.
They only said,
Billie Jo threw the pail of kerosene.
August 1934
I'm getting to know the music again.
And it is getting to know me.
We sniff each others armpits, and inside each others ears, and behind each others necks.
We are both confident, and a little sassy.
And I know now that all the time I was trying to get out of the dust, the fact is, what I am, I am because of the dust.
And what I am is good enough.
Even for me.
November 1935

"Suppertime"(circa 1936)  
(Picture from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.)


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