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Out of the Dust

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1. Beginning: August 1920

Meet Billie Jo,
whose Daddy named her,
born before the doctor could come.
Knew her Daddy
always wanted a boy.
Sorry that she came
instead.
Never getting
a brother or sister
even though her Ma
tried and tried.
Finding out
her Ma was
expecting
made her wonder.
Would Daddy get his
boy
this time?


2. On Stage

Describing
how
she

feels
makes me realize
I’m not the only one.
I perform too,
just like her.
Playing piano,
singing and dancing,
they go
hand-in-hand.
Both feeling
the thrill of the people
in the audience.
Both feeling the
pure heaven
of doing what we love.


3. Rules of Dining

I like their
little rituals,
how they make life better.
Mouth turns chalky,
realization hits
that the pepper
in the potatoes
isn’t pepper at all.
And the chocolate in the milk
was never added.
It’s dust from the
Dust Bowl.
Life there is so horrible,
so bland,
so dusty.
And I just can’t imagine.


4. Breaking Drought

Seventy days.
Seventy days without rain.
Seventy days without putting up an umbrella.
Seventy days without splashing in puddles,
or slipping around in mud.
Seventy days without rain.
No idea
people lived like that.
Didn’t realize
the clouds could hold it
for so long.
So long.
So long without flinging the raindrops.
So long without walking into a wall of water.
So long without getting an all natural shower,
or drinking from a fresh water spring.
Seventy days without water.
No ability to comprehend.


5. State Tests

All she says is,
“I knew you could.”
Can’t imagine what I’d do
if that was all the praise I got.
I might throw a fit.
But Billie Jo’s got better self control
than me.
She scores
top
of her class in the
top
school of the state.
But she doesn’t complain.
She doesn’t ask for more.
She’s not happy with
what she does get,
but it’s all she needs
all the same.
Just,
“I knew you could.”


6. What I Don’t Know

She thinks,
just like I do sometimes.
Wondering what’s out there,
out there in the world
that everyone else seems to know
but me.
They all have a secret,
a heck of a big secret,
but I’m the only one they
haven’t told.
Like the name of a book
or the gossip of the week.
I’m the ony one who doesn’t
know everything.
Or,
at least,
everything that I should.


7. The Accident

All I can do is
stare
at the page.
I’m aghast.
How?
That’s what I want to know.
How could something like that
happen?
Her Ma,
burning,
with a baby on the way,
all because of a mistaken pail
of kerosene
thought to be
water.
They both got burned.
But how?
How?
How?
How????


8. Devoured

Why she doesn’t say it till the end,
I’ll never know.
She mentions it,
as if in passing.
Because she knows
that if she treats it like the
serious issue
it is,
she won’t be able to let it go.
That’s what I think.
I think she’s trying to be
too strong.
But I understand why.
Her Ma died
while giving birth
to her almost little brother.
I’d want to forget that it happened
and be too strong
too.


9. Real Snow

I feel the same way,
that relieved feeling,
when I see a real snow.
The first real snow of
the winter.
It means that it’s still possible.
the snow can still fall.
It hasn’t changed much up there
since last year.
The snow makers haven’t
gone away,
left town to never return.
They’re still there.
The snow will still fall.
And Billie Jo
and I
will still enjoy it.


10. State Tests Again

They topped Oklahoma again,
and she wished she could tell
Ma.
Wished she could run home
and hear her say,
“I knew you could,”
One more time.
It may not have been enough
then.
But it sure would be
enough
now.


11. Guests

If I walked into my classroom
and there was a family,
a big family,
three generations,
with a baby on the way,
I might just stop and stare.
And stare,
and stare.
Rude,
but true.
I wouldn’t know how to react.
The fact that any family would
take refuge in a school
just saddens me.
Dust storms so bad,
forcing them into the school
for shelter.
With a baby on the way.
Wonder how that baby
made Billie Jo
feel?


12. Skin

Cancer,
I think,
or some other kind of illness.
Some disease that
could kill
Daddy,
leaving Billie Jo
all
alone.
Alone in a cruel world.
A world where the
dust blows
and the piano doesn’t play.
The cruelest world
thinkable.
And Billie Jo
would be too sad
to live
on
her
own.


13. Finding a Way

Billie Jo will live,
live with her Daddy,
live
and plant
and play her Ma’s piano.
Billie Jo will play,
even though
it might hurt
her burned,
scarred,
damaged hands.
She’ll play
because her Ma did,
and because
her Ma
taught her to play.
She’ll play because
she can.



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