I love verse novels. I love historical and period fiction. Hence, my five-star rating to Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse. Loved it. But instead of raving about how wonderful it is, I wanted to take a few posts worth of writing to share with you two verses from the novel.
First, a short synopsis. Billie Jo is a fourteen-year-old living with her pregnant mother and father during the Oklahoma dust-bowl. While there seems to be not much to hope in, she finds pleasure in listening to her mother play piano, as well as play piano herself. Her dad is a quiet man, but he works hard to take care of his family. Told in free verse from Billie Jo’s point of view, the novel spans a period of just under two years, in which we get the insiders view of life during the Dust Bowl.
Now, on to the beautiful poetry. . .
Mr. Hardly’s Money Handling
It was Daddy’s birthday
and Ma decided to bake him a cake.
money enough for anything like a real present.
Ma sent me to fetch the extras
with fifty cents she’d been hiding away.
“Don’t go to Joyce City, Billie,” she said.
“You can get what we need down Hardly’s store.”
I slipped the coins into my sweater pocket, the pocket without the hole,
thinking about how many sheets of new music fifty cents would buy.
Mr. hardly glared
when the Wonder Bread door
banged shut behind me.
He squinted as I creaked across the wooden floor.
Mr. Hardly was in the habit of charging too much for his stale food,
and he made bad change when he thought he could get away with it.
I squinted back at him as I gave him Ma’s order.
been worse than normal
since his attic filled with dust
and collapsed under the weight.
He hired folks for the repairs,
and argued over every nail and every little minute.
The whole place took
shoveling for days before he could
open again and
some stock was so bad it
had to be thrown away.
The stove clanked in the corner
as Mr. Hardly filled Ma’s order.
I could smell apples,
ground coffee, and peppermint.
I sorted through the patterns on the feed bags,
blew my nose.
When Mr. Hardly finished sacking my things,
I paid the bill,
and tucking the list in my pocket along with the change,
so Ma could bake the cake before Daddy came in.
But after Ma emptied the sack,
setting each packet out on the
oilcloth, she counted her change
and I remembered with a sinking feeling
that I hadn’t kept an eye on
Mr. Hardly’s money handling,
and Mr. Hardly had cheated again.
Only this time he’d cheated himself, giving us four cents extra.
So while Ma mixed a cake,
I walked back to Mr. Hardly’s store,
back through the dust,
back through the Wonder Bread door,
and thinking about secondhand music
in a moldy box at the shop in Joyce City,
music I could have for two cents a sheet,
I placed Mr. Hardly’s overpayment on the counter
and turned to head back home.
Mr. Hardly cleared his throat and I wondered for a moment
if he’d called me back to offer a piece of peppermint
of pick me out an apple from the crate,
but he didn’t,
and that’s okay.
Ma would have thrown a fit
if I’d taken a gift from him.
Out of the Dust
by Karen Hesse
Originally published in 1997