by LouAnn Muhm

    Focused on a book
    of poems, front -porch swinging, the woman
    cups her hand against her brow to shade her eyes.
    It is not enough that there is a tree
    hanging over her and no traces
    of sun for her to block.

    She is the only one on this well-scrubbed block
    who reads, and her book
    is held flat so no one traces
    the oddities that build around her, a woman
    who would read frivolous words beneath an elm tree
    under midday eyes.

    There is something in her eyes
    that they cannot forgive; she can block
    their unsubtle attempts to tree
    her like a hunted racoon, even without her book,
    and they cluck their tongues and call her "that woman"
    because she is not a horse broken to the traces.

    Eventually, alone in the refuge of the strange, she traces
    branch fingers falling dark across the page and eyes
    the prison door, waiting for a crack big enough for a woman
    and her mind. She will prop it open with a block
    for her sisters to follow and, like her, book
    themselves passage out from under the porch tree.

    Maybe it will be the tree
    that she will climb to heaven, no traces
    of her life in the courthouse book
    to be found by descended eyes
    hungry to fill in the block
    on a chart labeled "woman."

    Until the door opens or the woman
    finds her feet to climb the tree,
    she will sit reading, the only one on this starched and ironed block
    to pass her afternoons on the porch, the only traces
    that she feels them watching in the shielded eyes,
    the hand curving against the brow, a tunnel from eye to book.

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