117. At the Red and White

Strident sun had
Dulled the streaked shop
Windows, turned packed
Dirt to pavement,
Stripped the wood.
By the Red and White
They picked at calluses,
Rubbed palms.

“Tell you what,” said
Curt. With effort,
They attended, cross.
“Wish I had my
Gun out shooting
Rabbits! Boy! I’d
Get me some.”
They all nodded–
Not a bad
Idea. Curt chafed:
“Those damn hares,
All around
Creation, they love
Heat. Ate Roxie’s
Garden down to
Nubs. The lettuce,
Squash, and all.”
Men nodded, said
Nothing. Roxie’s
Garden, it had
Died from sun.
There were hardly
Hares left anymore.
“Country,” Curt said,
“Rabbits, think they
Own it, spoiling crops.
Ask me, they’re just
Begging to be
Shot!” The men roused
To agree: “Sure!
Pick them off!”

Mr. Ross was
Searching in his
Pockets: found
A newsprint page.
“My wife’s cousin,
She’s in North
Dakota. They got
Drought there, too. And
Roosevelt, he
Came to Devil’s Lake. Paper
Gives his speech.”
Mr. Ross was
Elderly: Tom
Asked, “Let’s hear.”
Someone grumbled,
“Too hot to flag-wave.”

Mr. Ross said, “Well, Devil’s
Lake’s hard up.
Land is dead.
Farmers been run
Off. Ain’t many
Left. Those ones who
Came to hear,
Curious why
He’d come out so
Mr. Ross could
Read. So he
Unfolded specs and
Donned them, somber.

          ‘Senator Nye–my friends of
          North Dakota–‘”
Curt mimicked–“My
Friends”–voice they all
Knew. They settled.
“Says that he can’t
Say his heart is ‘happy,
          because I have
          seen with my own eyes, some
          of those things I
          have been reading
          and hearing
          about, a year and more.'”
Curt said, “He just hears
Reports about
The drought.”
“Well, says here he
Came to see the problem,
Says that it’s
Perplexed him, also
Many others
          ‘since I’ve been in
          office.’ Says: ‘It
          is a problem.’
          Then he says he
          wouldn’t try to
          fool them all by
          ‘saying we know
          the solution
          of it. We do
Mr. Ross had
Paused. They cocked an ear.
          “‘I believe in
          being frank,
          and what I can
          tell you from
          the bottom of my heart,
          truthfully, is
          this: if it is
          possible for
          us to solve the problem,
          we are going to do it.'”
They looked down, intent.
          “‘I saw some signs
          by the road that
          said: “You gave us
          beer–now give us
          water.” Well,
          the beer part was
They smiled:
“Seen them signs.”
Thomas pictured
Him at his train window,
Or in limousine, driving
Through and gazing out:
Razed Dakota
Wheat and scrawled-up

Mr. Ross went on,
“There’s some dam,
Here he talks about it….
Engineers’ convention….”
They began to
Feel perhaps this
Listening had
Turned out worth their
While. Shoot, no work
Anyhow, though
No one said–
But they could go
Home and tell their wives,
They had heard
A speech from FDR.
“He don’t sound so
Chipper in that
Dust,” one volunteered.
They stretched legs.
Tom could almost
See him on the platform,
Dust whipped high,
Speaking to those
Brown impassive faces his
Confession: don’t know
What to do.
Bud laughed, “Sounds plumb
Sad. Queen Eleanor,
She must not have
Wrote him, warned him
We’re so dry.”

Mr. Ross grew
Tired of interruptions.
He broke in:
 He don’t ask them
To have faith and courage.
          ‘You have it. I
          am asking, however, that
          you keep up that
          courage, and,
          up that faith.'”
Someone: “Well, what then?”
          “‘If it’s
          possible for Government
          to improve
          conditions in this state,
          Government will
          do it.'”
They strained
For the rest.
“He says their ‘communities,’
Their interests,
Are close to his
          ‘heart. I am not
          going to forget the day I’ve
          spent with you.'”

Tom felt his fists
Clench, his body
Forward, aching,
As to catch those
Words from far Dakota:
“Not forget.”
Mr. Ross:
“He hopes Nature
Opens up the Heavens. Says
When he walked on
         ‘the platform this
          morning,’ and he
          ‘saw a rather dark cloud,
          I said to
          myself, maybe
          it is going to rain.'”
They waited. They
Scanned sky every day.
          “‘Well, it did
          not. All I can
          say is that I
          hope to goodness
          it is going to rain,
          good and plenty.'”
Mr. Ross was
Winding up the speech.
         “‘My friends, I
          want to tell you
          I am glad I came here. I
          want to tell you
          that I will not
          let up till I
          can give my best
“Then he ends.
Talks about their,
Problems, North Dakota.”

Mr. Ross was
Folding up the paper.
The men stretched.
Their backs started
Slacking comfortably.
Shoulders loosened
Into softer knots.
One old man said, “Rob,
No offense,
But that voice of
Yours, it ain’t quite
Sounds more like Cal

They all laughed.

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