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Tough

From: The Missouri Review
Volume 37, Number 1, 2014
pp. 135-140 | 10.1353/mis.2014.0013

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Buena Vista Ragsdale

the dew lay all night heavy upon my branch

Job 29:19

The morning the mailman found her
after eighteen hours on that caliche ground
hard as a mule trail, the dregs
of dawnlight streamed up like a cockscomb
above their rickety farmhouse ridgepole
and wallowed with the blue tick heeler
the raindrip groundedge under the Texas porch
far sky still dark blue as a shotgun barrel

above where she lay in the body-length embrace
of death, wash hung stretched out and starched
on the clothesline like a flock of angels
nesting in rows under a fading daylight moon
the cheatgrass whitewashed with hard rime

she fell and then waited for him to find her
through the afternoon and cold night with
a broken hip, her dyspeptic husband inside
with the T.V. wondering where supper might be
until he found buttermilk and cornbread
in the cold box with a quarter of onion
that would have to tide him over
until she finished whatever she was doing
and made him something for breakfast
never noticing she didn’t come to bed

when the mailman knocked him up
from his Captain Kangaroo reverie to wallow
out of his chair and come answer the door
he said You need to get on the phone
call an ambulance to come out here
he said What for? I aint sick yet
the mailman said It’s not about you
it’s your wife Miss Buena laying out there
on the ground half froze to death and hurt bad
it looks like and he said
I wondered how come she hadn’t made no coffee

she wouldn’t even take an aspirin
with a glass of whiskey for the pain
so she could stay awake and keep her mind
alert enough to hear what that damned Dr. Tubbs
and those nurses might be saying
about her behind her back
who didn’t know a sonofabitching thing
about it anyway and after
the mailman offered his opinion
on how tough she was she said
Like a ocotillo limb to which Dr. Tubbs
said What? She said A devil’s walking stick
just find a bed and put me in it
I need to get some rest

her husband hitched a ride in
with the mailman the next day and sat
in a corner of her room saying nothing,
like a waterlogged raft waiting
for a huge shove to get underweigh
but accepting a dinner tray when they brought it
then hitched a ride back to the farm
every evening with whoever he conned
out of a lift the seven miles
so introverted and evanescent
the nurses and Dr. Tubbs on rounds
never even noticed his presence

he made such a science of mute insociability
except to ask that the channel be changed
on rare occasions of documentary or political commentary
beyond his cognition, having as Dr. Tubbs said
the mental capacity and vocabulary
of a second grader plus the word firetruck

she lay dying through the winter
with her nonhealing shattered pelvis and femur
uncomplaining and acceptant of fate
only asking the nurses one request,
that the call switch be hung
on the toilet paper holder saying
By god they can find me being dead
in bed or on the ground but
they are not going to discover me
stretched out on top of the bedpan
when her husband said What
was that about? She said
Just shut up, your mind is as black
as a table of face down dominoes
on top of a midnight velvet cloth
go on home you aint doing anybody any good
so you might as well do it there as here

Dr. Tubbs said she was a lily of the field
her toiling and spinning days done
let her have anything she wants
anybody who put up with that man
and that hard a life out there alone
for fifty years is a candidate for sainthood

not to speak also of the fact she could do
any job needed to be done on a ranch or farm
from building fence to pulling calves
to digging a new outhouse pit and moving the shack on
to fixing...



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