If the hem of your dress is turned up, kiss it and you will
get a new one.
If you drop a dishrag and it spreads out, a woman is coming,
and if it wads up, a man is coming.
A blister on your tongue means you have told a lie.
Pearl stands in line for a shower
and when her time comes takes off her blouse and hangs it on
the outside of the door. Enters the stall which is steaming.
She ought to have sandals, she thinks, unlaces and removes her
shoes. There is a plastic stool inside the shower. She folds
her underwear into her slacks, stands on the stool and reaches
up to balance the dry clothes on top of the door.
If I had some bleach, if I had
some bleach and it was Saturday or if it was Sunday.
She looks at her hand on the faucet
she looks at the tiling behind the faucet. She turns on the water
and puts her head against the shower wall and waits to feel clean.
Somebody knocks hard on the
shower door and Pearl covers herself with her dumb hands.
"Sorry," the knocker
says, "but can you hurry up?"
"Sure," Pearl says, and
quickly soaps and rinses and then smacks herself on the head
twice hard. Turns off the water and steps quickly into her underthings,
her trousers, tucks in her shirt, and opens the shower door.
"Thanks," says the
knocker, "thanks a lot."
No shame in that.
No shame in once-worns long as
In the corner of the noisy large
room where all the women are playing cards and eating cereal
and smoking and drinking coffee, Pearl has her bag and is working
through scraps of paper and an empty water bottle. At the bottom
of the bag is a handkerchief tied with a rubberband that has
all the buttons.
She takes the pouch out of her
bag and unwinds the band from the neck. Marie leans over, curious
to see what she's got in her bag there.
"Those your buttons?"
"Yes," Pearl says.
"Pretty." Marie squints
her eyes and leans closer. "Let me see one."
Marie takes up an ivory enameled
button with a blue Dutch boy painted on it. "Bet it's worth
something," says Marie, "Especially if you clean it
up a little."
Pearl knows it's not worth anything,
not a nickel and says so.
"You know there are specialists
out there honey who can take a look at things and give you an
"Pearl," the social worker
calls out, "can I see you a minute?"
In Blue Springs, Pearl
writes, West Virginia where I am from, the postman carried
on through rain sleet and snow. One spring the river run wild.
It covered all over everything. The two bridges they buckled
and all the little creatures inhabiting West Virginia went crazy
running from the flood. You see dogs and mud water all over the
place. The waters got so far over the banks that woodpiles floated
away and rats they were swimming in the water. They probably
died come to think of it. They must of. What this story is about
though is how the mailman who was a friend of Daddy's carried
on even through the flood. I will never forget how he did it.
Mud everywhere. Even when people were saying who's to care about
what kind of mail you get in a time like this. Now in particular,
people were saying. Not like he went door to door. He did one
big drop at the church on a rise. One drop for everybody's mail
even if it was what you call junk. And even the people that was
COMPLAINING turned their minds around when the preacher read
out names saying, Holbrooke or Kindeer or Hutchson or whatever
the names were that day. Even though he was old it was definitely
the first crush I had on a man. Not a sexual kind of crush mind
you but a true crush. I'm not sure what else to write about on
this. I can't seem to remember anything more about him really.
But when you said write about a hero he's the first one really
that came to my mind.
Oh, here's something else.
Him and Daddy talked about the war.
What do you do I wonder when
you got somebody's leg in your hand maybe attached but just a
little bit to the body it come from. Much as you wish you could
you can't say: I command you I commend thee leg to return from
whence you came. You have to think medically in that situation
because men are depending on you for their life so they can get
back home. Bullets and machine gun fire and bombs. Everything
coming at a person coming at them. And those boys dying before
they even could put their feet on dry land. Or the sand, you
know what I mean, the beach. It's more awful to die in the water
and lose your parts. At least you got a fighting chance when
you're on land. Water is just water. The only place to go is
down under drowned dead.
"He did come back,"
Pearl says. She folds her paper in half then half. "He cut
off the top of his second finger and suffered a bad knee but
that all happened when he got back."
She stops and puts away the paper.
"Like I say," she says, "he did come back."
"And then what happened,"
the social worker says.
And then, Pearl wanted to say,
and then it was fall and Mother had me help her around the house.
She kept a clean house. When somebody come around smoking she
say please take that outside on the porch and when Daddy come
in with his boots dirty she told him to leave em at the door.
To knock the mud off at least.
And Mother said to me before you go:
"I might of gone to school
that day," she says, "maybe that's when I was going
"I was a girl," she says,
"I had my freedom. It wasn't like you all think."
"Pearl," the social worker
"I am not your religion,"
When someone in the family dies,
go tell the bees; if you don't they will sting you when you rob
When someone in the family dies,
turn the mirror to the wall.
Some of the women wait on the
porch and talk and smoke. Gloria stands watching, and Sondra
is on the shaded step, and there are a couple of quiet girls.
ShyRae stands out on the porch and watches Pearl walk down the
street and some cars go by. Shy smokes and smokes and thinks
only about smoking. It is hot and her mind is seized up and Shy
wants to call somebody. Abide with me Lord for you are my sword
and shield and she sees that man moving down the street was somebody
she knew up the street and down it she knew him. My shepherd.
And here he might be coming and in his coming and her recognizing
him she can feel her skin and her teeth rattling off her lip
a fastness a knowing I know she thinks hot lungs mouth palate
cleaver smoke some smoke.
Everything smells like trash
and heaps, the automobiles moving along in pulses, bright, loud,
Pearl goes into his store into
the air-conditioned store and is cooled instantly.
"What you got there sweetheart,"
the man says.
Back behind the counter is all
the bottles and the same old judge on t.v.
"Two and nineteen."
He counts out her change wraps
the bottle in a bag.
There was a boy Pearl remembered
from Sunday school. Maybe he was crazy by now. But he was about
her age and played basketball around the county. He wasn't a
star or anything but one time he said to her during part of a
game, actually at a break while he was drinking from the water
fountain in the hallway, hey, how'm I doin. She didn't say anything
because she didn't know him. Or rather: she said you're doing
great! Three down and three to go! She had no idea what the right
thing was to say to a basketball player from her school and she
didn't know anything about the rules anyhow and yet here he was.
It is decent enough weather
and she has eight hours or so before having to be back to the
house. The park is open and the library is open. She walks.
Ain't you cold? They said on
Ain't you hot? They said on hot
It's not clothes make a person,
Mother said, it's what's inside.
Your shirt don't match your slacks,
But there was.
There was shame in it.
Everybody come to the wake and
everybody went to the funeral. They had some money then and had
the wake in the funeral parlor. Not like the poor.
When they buried him, they buried
him in military's gotten from his closet.
After the poor, after the parlor
they went poor.
Mother went poor.
To stop a flow of blood, it's
said, put soot on the wound.
To stop a flow of blood, lay a
cobweb on it.
What's the first thing you lose
when you stand up, baby brother said.
Your lap, he said.
She walks into the library where
it is air-conditioned and peaceful. The Oriental lady Pearl sometimes
sees at dinner is over in the table by the window combing her
hair shining piece by piece. She has pretty hair, especially
in the light like that by the window. Pearl pushes the up arrow
button for the elevator. An old man with a handful of Kleenex
and a leather briefcase holds open the doors for her while she
walks in and the two of them stand watching the floor numbers
light up and ring.
She gets out at the third floor
and goes to the ladies room and sits down on the toilet seat
and drinks, the plastic bottle in her hand, balanced on her knee,
the paper label, she swallows, she picks at the label and wipes
the bottle against her shirt, sitting there on the toilet half-seeing
tiled floor patterns, names scratched in the stall. Something
slow and murmuring is inside her head when she gets up, a gentle
current, a prickling inside the skin, a looseness, she walks
out of stall out of the bathroom.
There is a display of wolf books
near the librarian. Pearl picks up one of the books and sits
at a table that has nobody else at it.
There's a photo of a wolf fallen
down on the road after being shot and one also of cows behind
a fence. The wolf isn't dead yet or asleep either. Its wild dog
eyes are beautiful and Pearl thinks I never saw something like
this not even in the mountains. Her head is thrumming with alcohol
and wonder and she loses her desire to read just only stares
at the pictures and looks out the window and looks and smells
snow in her mind a timber sky and a clutch of homes grey smoke
skirts lifting in the pipe metal stoves hovering over the roofs
and spreading upwards. Long days of nothing but rain and mist
and all them skinny trees whited out blurried.
Sometimes the bus wouldn't come
for weeks at a time if the roads wasn't passable like in the
winter or in floods. But it got more regular now. She stood there
waiting with her brother while he threw rocks at the crows starlings
a pole anything at all. Occasionally he threw one at her but
it was just in fun. She had her lessons and the pen she got out
of Mother's pocketbook. Sun out and the grass still wet but already
it's getting warmer. Sugar maples coming on. Pretty soon it'd
be blackberry vines all over. Here the bus comes now, she said,
Spender William, get your lunch. He threw another rock at the
pole and this time she said quit.
What's black and white and red all over he said with a smile
all over his face.
The social worker is tired of
how hot it is in the shelter. She tells the kitchen manager she's
going to take five and goes to her office.
She sits down at her desk and puts
her face directly in front of the fan and closes her eyes.
After a few minutes, she begins
writing in her charts. No real progress evident. Presenting problem
remains the same, but client attends meetings regularly and shows
good effort. As always, respectful of other clients and staff.
To help rheumatism pains, carry an Irish potato in your pocket.
To cure an earache, blow smoke in the ear.
To cure a headache, lay a cold butter knife across the back of
Pearl took her hands to her
mother's feet, looked at the toes which refused to lay down the
bones that jutted out at the sides small bulbs onions marbles
mean bony parts
I got a job. Pearl looked at her
and felt so proud.
Doing what, said her mother.
It's an elderly woman she lives
in Wheeling and her son needs somebody like a nurse to come and
take care of her.
Pearl stopped for a second.
It's a live-in, she said.
I know that, Mother said back.
She felt it all coming down on her the leaving the big girl gone
the end of this girl she felt it all finishing and wanted to
say stay here where the poor belong that here we got a place,
she wanted to say, a place we call it ours and there's room for
my girl here and out there what chance she got? How am I to hold
her knowing what there is I know, this girl, who is this girl
is she mine?
I said I'd come soon as I can,
Pearl said after a while.
In the book of the old testament
a girl don't leave her mother to forage and fend but they work
together in gathering the sheaves from the fields side by side
gathering in the sheaves and in her mind she watched Pearl's
hands move on her feet and in her mind treasured the hands and
thought I ought to give her her rightful inheritance gold ring
daddy's certificate of service the yellow pie plate china painted
tea cups two with the plates matching a blessing a blessing but
in the Book he suffers the little children to come unto him,
the sparrow does not think about what it will wear or what it
will eat be ye like the birds of the air.
Pearl leaves the library. She
walks to the park and sits down on a bench near the fountain
and drinks a little more and eats from a pack of crackers. She
watches the birds in the water cooling themselves and ruffling
around in the water. The sun is up high and it's hot.
Jesus, she begins to sing inside
her mind, Jesus in the morning Jesus at the noontime. Jesus when
the sun goes down.
It is in the unforgetting mind
she is best reprieved and finds a cool spring, a nickel-shiny
river, furred stones, slake, a drink, leaf-strewn melt. With
her hand in the fountain under the city's hot sky she can lay
it down easy.
The burrito cart nearby is bustling,
the men in suits, the women in suits, the lilac and pretty lipstick
red and hair and linens so proper so smelling good: Pearl the
grown can watch them, hear, she can partake of the scene as a
belonger in the street with her sweet white hand in the river
fountain. In the sunned-up wind is Mexico bean, corn, meat, the
smell of faraway griddle, linoleum, pears in a bowl, a flicker
of gnats in the light.
Dinner at noon and supper at five.
We wasn't that poor, she thinks.
Pearl takes a hankerchief out of
her pocket and douses it in the fountain, squeezing and balling
it up in her fist she feels such cool water go a little ways
down the wrist and trickle across the fingers and pour back forth
into the water. Something inside her hands that worked against
her lays down in the water.
She looks at her clean shirt front
at the stitchwork around the sleeve.
When it gets dirty, she just goes
through the tables at church and throws the dirty one in the
Last week she had some blue pants.
She had spilled on them and threw them in the garbage and got
She recalled something that girl
"I want you to know your secret's
out," said the social worker, "you've got such a gift
at this, Pearl," she said.
The woman in Wheeling was sick
and old and lived in a big house.
The old woman looked up with her
blue-eyed gauze and cloudy gaze.
"I'm Pearl Elizabeth,"
she said, "your son Bill he hired me."
Pearl wondered how she was going
to get the old woman up out of the bed and into the toilet. The
old woman's breath smelled appley and soft. She had some long
fingernails and closed her eyes and looked like she was about
to say something and Pearl felt the old woman's hand, cool, just
collapse on her leg and she looked at the hand. The two of them
sat there for a while on the bed.
The old woman opened her eyes.
And Pearl folded the covers over
to one side of the bed and leaned over the old woman and put
her hands on her shoulders and tried to pull her up easy. The
old woman made some sounds and moved her leg and seemed to be
helping in her own way. So Pearl pulled a little harder and the
woman was sitting up pretty straight and her feet almost to the
floor. Pearl stood up and put her arms around the old woman who
weighed not more than a tiny child. And the two of them walked
shaky and slow to the toilet. Pearl sat her down. The old woman
looked like she might try and get up so Pearl stood by her and
then eased out the nightgown from under her so it wouldn't get
soiled. And then she noticed that the old woman's shoulder had
blood on it. And that there was a rip in her shoulder that was
"Oh," said Pearl,
"you got a hurt," and then saw she had splashes of
blood on her hand.
Another time when Pearl was turning
her over in bed the skin tore again but again the old woman didn't
My patient is old but she's
sweet, Pearl wrote to her sister Shelby, she never complains
or puts up any kind of a fuss. She's easier than Baby Ireland
was that's for sure. Though one day I come in and her mouth was
flung open wide and I thought she was dead. Her mouth was so
wide open and I swear I thought she was dead but she wasn't.
Just in case you were wondering, Pearl wrote, I have MY OWN ROOM
and the bed is so high up off the floor I have to have a little
step stool from the pantry to climb in to it! I wish you could
come visit. She needs me every day of the week including Sundays
but her son Bill gives me off two days so far and one of them
I went SHOPPING.
She got her own money and kept
it in the jewelry box.
She counted it when she was blue.
Old Mrs. had just ate and was sleeping
sound. It was the heat of the day and Pearl she walked from room
to room just thinking, well come on in, here is the front room
my carpet runner and calendar in the hall and cozy kitchen my
mixer painted cupboards my decorator towels and the everydays.
The fans were circulating gentle
this wayagainst the hems of the drapes looking out on the porch
onto the trees through the window where a car went by. Everything
was quiet every thing was clean.
Pearl walked back into the kitchen
and put the last eggsalad on some buttered bread. She put the
knife in the sink and let water run on it.
Then she turned on the radio loud,
sopped the rag in lemon wood lotion and set about polishing the
buffet. In the hotness dust lifted and she was wet with dust
and sweat and her palms fingers and face where she took back
a hair straying all of it smelled of lemons perfumes clean yellow
The floorboards lay down for her,
ashtrays smokefree glassy the hutch polished to a teacup shine
wooden steps luminous like a mirror casting her face beside runners
woven indigo and blush threaded blue bells white gypsum embroidered
in careful hand.
The whole house bloomed. His face
when he saw it after only a little over a week was shocked and
"You are a miracle worker,"
She could tell he was happy.
And he increased her wage.
Sometimes she imagined Bill coming
up the steps and then she stopped.
There's a million and one things
to be done a million and one.
Like to die of nothing to do,
Shelby wrote, I hate hate hate--
Heaven is a million to one, Pearl's
mind lilted, two steps, remember when that band starts playing
oh honey don't be late and her mind was swinging. It was that
old-timey tune from the radio got stuck in her head.
There is a rising up whistle in the ear.
Shine under tongue in the mind burning sweet lip.
A seizure of shine took a man
so hard one night he rammed his head beat it over and over against
a post till he passed out. Or, a man possessed beyond his capacities
went home and beat his wife. And again, Brother Uncle had found
his Lord in a jail cell like the apostle struck down blind enroute
for Damascus. Declared himself reborn and drank no longer so
help me God.
She did die. Pearl went to the
funeral. For the partitioning she wrapped the guest chairs in
plastic, polished and dried and rolled the silverware platters
and such in soft cloth.
The son was so grateful. He gave
her five hundred dollars extra in her last paycheck and told
her if she ever needed a good reference she should certainly
contact him. Did she want a letter in writing?
Pearl squints at the sun and
the sun's light coming off the marble and water fountain. Inside
her tooth is a hole and she favors it.
A schoolgirl with falling-down
hair has one arm stretched out to balance and the other swinging
low with her purse, walking circles around the fountain.
Or is trying to when her mother
hollers, "get down from there! Can't you see people are
trying to eat lunch?"
Pearl shakes her head and
waves one hand, "Oh, she's alright," she says to the
mother, "she's not bothering me."
The schoolgirl stops and lifts
one leg slightly off the fountain's edge, dropping and lifting
graceful as a ballerina doll on a wind-up key box tinkling out
edelweiss, the silver key turning music and a soft sound like
coughing coming out of the jewelry box Shelby and her had shared.
One day Pearl bought some shoes.
She bought new shoes.
The salesman said--is there anything
else? Do you need a bigger size?
And she said, no, they fit fine.
And he said they're not too tight,
while his eyes they was wandering to and fro, around the store.
Pearl could see.
I'll take them, she said.
I'll take them they're perfect,
The schoolgirl takes dancer
steps. There must be some kind of invisible plot on that fountain,
Pearl thinks, which only dancers can see, and she watches the
girl follow the rows perfect, pointing her toe and dropping her
foot, wobbling a bit to this side or that but correcting herself
by raising an arm and then looking up at Pearl.
"We're from Illinois. We're
on vacation for ten days," the schoolgirl says. "First
we went over to see Clara my aunt and her kids and then we saw
Grandma in her house. Her dog is really old in people years.
He pretty much doesn't do anything."
The girl stares at Pearl. "How
old are you?"
"Older than you," says
"Over 25 and under a hundred--"
When she laughs out she smells
her breath and when she breathes out the hole in her tooth lights
up. Her hand goes to her cheek.
"Toothache," Pearl says.
They sit and watch the spray from
the fountain and the water rising and falling.
Mother was talking to everybody
and Brother Uncle said to sit down Sister sit down you're tired.
Pearl stood by the table minding
the rolls in a basket the cold cuts ham cold bean salad everybody
was bringing in the food one by one as they come in.
Mother had on her cross it was
showing around her neck. She had on a dress and stockings.
Daddy's friend came and said he
never thought he'd see the day.
Everybody was in the house with
they shoes on.
Shelby said I gotta get me some
Pearl sits very still in the
sun and listens to the water spray against the stone and imagines
that she could put a salt rinse and poultice over the hole in
She sits very still and without
breathing feels nothing in her mouth. It takes everything in
her to keep still and keep her palms from turning and lifting
over rising up. It takes everything in her to keep from boxing
at her mouth at her eye at her head because when she hits, the
tooth shuts up and peace comes over her still and true.
She imagines filling her mouth
It is a whole new set of folks
setting up around the water now and she stays still.
Six miles or so of road between
one town and the next. Her brother Spender William had got his
head up against a backseat window and his mouth open, asleep.
The glass was rolled down part-way and his hair was flopping
in the wind. From time to time he scratched his nose or forehead.
Daddy was home he was driving with
one hand and blowing his smoke out the window trying to keep
it away from Mother and Baby Ireland who's sitting in her lap.
Mother handed back three pieces of chewing gum and a comb over
the seat to Pearl and Pearl combed back Shelby's hair. Her hair
was smooth and brown and shiny. It almost never had snarls because
Shelby's so good with hair.
Give me a piece of that cobbler,
Pearl had the chicken in a bowl
covered in foil on her lap. Mother had the dish on the floor
in the front. She just looked at him and shook her head.
Why you ask when you know what
I'm going to say, Mother said.
Why'd the chicken cross the road,
To get to the other side.
She popped open the glove compartment
to get out her lotion. The whole car swelled on the odor of it
and Shelby wrinkled her nose.
I hate that stuff, Shelby whispered
to Pearl, it makes me want to vomit.
When they got to church Mother
told Spender to take the cobbler out back and Shelby and Spender
William put it all on the long table and then went inside and
joined in on singing. Mother spread out her handkerchief on the
pew and set down the baby and talked some with Brother Uncle
while Daddy was out smoking on the porch with the other men and
She opened up her purse and gave
him something out of it.
There was feet scratching and doors
opening and swinging shut as the men finished up on the porch
and came in to join the women and Brother Uncle.
Like I say, it can wait, said Darrin.
Won't do any good to worry about
it now, said Smith.
What we need's less rain and more
dough-ray-me, said Daddy.
Smith laughed and Earl said, well,
that roof ain't going to patch itself.
And then Daddy walked in to stand
beside Mother and all the men joined in too with their families
if they had them and the singing got strong.
Brother Uncle put his hands on
the book and then he opened up the book and started to read from
it kind of half reading and half singing.
He went around the congregation
shaking hands clasping and shaking hands with the men just one
to the next clasping hands and reciting and talking.
Murmurs and happy words went through
the people of God and they were waiting too and calling out encouragements
throwing verses he shook hands with Daddy he shook hands with
Earl he shook hands.
Anybody at all could preach if
they wanted to but Brother Uncle he was breathing from the tongue
was loose from his hands was being carried up from the shadows
from recrimination. He served his time.
now we're on God's time. Can't be service without a servant
can't be servant without a master
can't be a house without a home
can't be me without you
can't be me without you
don't leave me
cannot be where you are not.
And Brother Uncle started clapping
and again moved throughout the people and then stopped and stood
standing and lifting up off his heels lifting up light to the
sound of clapping and pulled out of his jacket pocket the photograph
Mother had given him.
Heal your servant, Lord, heal this child if it is your will
Daddy stared at Brother Uncle just stared
Necessity is laid upon me, said Brother Uncle
Stay with us a while longer
Brother Uncle had stopped, his
eyes closed shut and his hands were moving and the photograph--
Where is that picture from? Daddy
Where'd you get that picture from,
he said again, and Brother Uncle opened his eyes.
From the mother of your children,
Brother Uncle called over to Shelby
And Shelby was scared but even
more scared of saying no
He placed the picture in her hands.
She just stood there and looked.
What do you see, child of God?
I see my little brother Baby Ireland,
Shelby replied, her voice loud to her own ears, her heart pounding
so hard she could feel it in her throat and in her belly.
Brother Carl, Brother Uncle said,--what
do you see?
Shelby turned around
Daddy said nothing
Lay on hands
Lay on hands went around.
Brother Uncle took Shelby's head
in his hands
O Lord, we are your instruments,
he said, take away this illness this confusion and give this
child, give this child a prayerful touch
a praying vision, Lord
a touch of Holiness, Lord
Daddy and Mother neither of them
was saying anything.
Brother Uncle turned his eyes on
to Shelby leaning down to her face deep and she was terrified.
He lay his hands on her.
Let the Lord, Brother Uncle whispered,
Let Him work through you.
Pearl watched Shelby begin to cry
and turn as if to to go but Brother Uncle pressed her head firmly
and she cried harder and started shaking.
She was moving her lips but no
sound was coming out with her eyes closed and praying and moving
In the afternoon the sky breaks
open and it rains hard. Pearl goes back to the library past the
security guard and on to the bathroom to clean up. She has to
push the faucet knob at regular intervals, wads up some brown
paper in the drain and fills the sink with water. Soaks her hands
in the sink. One by one using her thumbnail begins pushing back
Mad Mary is in the corner with
her newspaper hats and the notes tied all up to her shirt. She
writes all day. Every time you see her, Mad Mary is writing and
writing. She doesn't ever look up and think for a second, she
just writes and the hours spin around and around and time passes
and the papers pile up. She writes small and her handwriting
occupies the page sometimes even running up the margins one side
down the other. After she finishes with a paper, Mad Mary pins
it to her coat or to her bag or finds a way to fix it on a piece
She sits on the side of the road
with her cardboard signs. Passerbyers and especially from out
of town look down to her and once they get a peek at what is
written there, they turn on their way.
And Mad Mary talks incessantly
as if to someone.
Pearl wishes that she'd one day
write something amazing something you'd want to read in a book
that was real and stirring, that would blow you over with its
truthfulness. But she won't.
Pearl is sick to death of crazy
women and now here comes the maid to clean the toilets. Pearl
stands over the sink and continues to press back her cuticles
and takes her time about it. The maid comes in and empties the
garbage and looks at Pearl and Mad Mary and goes back out into
The security guard knocks on the
door and says, "Ladies? You got to finish up your business.
We need to clean up in here."
"Let's hustle now," he
Mad Mary gathers her bags and leaves
without saying anything.
Pearl looks at herself in the mirror
and pulls the wad of paper towels out of the sink and leaves.
Back outside the air is steamed
and the sidewalks already drying.
In her mind Pearl feels the pressure
of confusion of tired confusion this spite opening up inside
her ribs and inside her hands and in her mouth.
She wants to tear into her skin
with her teeth take off a finger to feel the dusty bone crunching
in her mouth just to.
There's a slick in the back of
her mind and it takes Pearl down comes up on her.
There wasn't just one time it was
all things put together adding up they just added up, she said.
Mouthslick stocking shoes and shining
She gets down on the street
on her knees and flattens out her hand on the paved and metal-like
firmament and scrubs with her hand flat she scrubs she labors
hard at it at cleaning that mess.
Pennyroyal, she thinks while scrubbing,
wild ginseng and
cohash chamomile mint
blackberry rashweed mustard blossom in the yard.
You see one a Baby Ireland's
socks under the white oak and Shelby on the porch watching him.
And the dog and cat laid out under the porch nobody else and
Spender William's he's at school you hear nobody.
Pearl feels she got a spider
inching down her tiny breast and reaches up under the shirt to
squash it brown recluse egg snatcher.
Her face is wet and it is hot
and her mind answers on what it could be, a moving thing gone
under her raiments and moving on the skin, any manner of thing
copper cotton viper
she feels nothing under her hand just sweat trailing
just a trail of wet her skin spit out.
Pearl thinks now I'm gone crazy.
Say me a list from school say me
numbers, she whispers to herself
two time two equals four and four
times four equals sixteen and sixteen times sixteen equals. There's
no number in it no number counting nothing where a number ought
to be a number spinning so fast out of control so out of sight.