American Literature MOY Assessment

from Out of the Dust
By Karen Hesse

Finding a Way

Daddy
started talking
about planting
the rest of the acres in wheat,
5 but then said, No,
let's just go with what we've got right now.

And I've
been playing
a half hour
10 every day,
making the skin stretch,
making the scars stretch.

The way I see it, hard times aren't only
about money,
15 or drought,
or dust.
Hard times are about losing spirit,
and hope,
and what happens when dreams dry up.

20 The tractor's busted,
we don't have the cash to fix it,
but there's nothing saying Daddy can't do the work
by hand.
It can't be any harder than digging a hole
25 forty by sixty by six feet deep.

Daddy bought a second mule with Louise's help.
Her betrothal gift to him.
He walks behind the team,
step by step, listing the fields to fight the wind.
30 Maybe the tractor lifted him above the land,
maybe the fields didn't know him anymore,
didn't remember the touch of his feet,
or the stroke of his hand,
or the bones of his knees,
35 and why should wheat grow for a stranger?
Daddy said he'd try some sorghum,
maybe some cotton,
admitting as how there might be something
to this notion of diversification folks were
40 talking about,
and yes, he'd bring the grass back
like Ma wanted,
where he wasn't planting anything else.
He'd make new sod.
45 And I'm learning, watching Daddy, that you can stay
in one place
and still grow.

I wipe dust out of the roasting pan,
I wipe dust off Ma's dishes,
50 and wait for Daddy to drive in with Louise,
hoping she'll stay a little later,
a little longer,
waiting for the day when she stays for good.

She wears a comical hat, with flowers,
55 in December,
and when she smiles,
her face is
full enough of springtime, it makes
her hat seem just right.
60 She brings apples in a sack,
perfect apples she arranges
in a bowl on the shelf,
opposite the book of poetry.
Sometimes, while I'm at the piano,
65 I catch her reflection in the mirror,
standing in the kitchen, soft-eyed, while Daddy
finishes chores,
and I stretch my fingers over the keys,
and I play.

December 1935

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