138. The Public Meeting

Held it in
A classroom. White Shoes’
Bony forearms on
The lectern, other three men
Up front in three chairs,
And the farmers facing them
From desks. The four men
With their startling,
Foreign East Coast
Voices, backs so
Federal, so
Straight, as they shot out
Questions: rental acres–
Worked okay? Payments,
Parity? The schedule
Work?–drought aid,
Feed-and-seed?
County agent answer
All their questions?
Were the gardens
Dying? Cattle?
Found a garden crop
That could survive? Checks
Come on time?
Listing fields–that
Help? With wind, what
Worked? And school–could
They pay staff?

Farmers stood to
Answer, as in class.
Paperwork’s too
Much, they said,
Form’s five pages,
Asks too many–
But we need it,
Said the four, each line!
Nossir. Farmers
Shook their heads explaining,
Patient: where’s that
Form? Here’s one–
Questions 3 and 38,
What they’re asking,
Same as 15 here….
The four began
Nodding, taking
Notes. The farmers,
Arms crossed, watched.

Meeting soon
Became: Do You All Know?
Rap Smith stood: do
You all know,
Shovel cultivator will work
Better than your lister,
If storm’s short. Pull
Off the shovels,
Leave the outside two.
Fast and cheap,
Furrows are like
This–he stretched his arms.
By him a man
Stood up: did you all
Know, tractors
In this heat,
Carburetors can be primed
Too much?
Others stood–
Up in front
The four there didn’t
Stop them, sat and
Listened, wrote down
What they said: we’ll
Pass this on. Asked them:
Carburetors? Someone
Asked us that in Kansas, but
We didn’t know. Now,
What about that
School?

School needed help.
Yet they waited,
Silent. Would they
Get a scolding,
Beggar-like? One
Woman stood:
“Can’t start class
September, can’t
Afford to–no one
Can pay tax,
Tax can’t make
The payroll.” The four
Answered: there’s funds
Set aside for
Just this use–we
Got to keep those
Kids in school–
If you’ll talk to
So-and-so at County–
“Also,” said the woman,
“They’re about to
Fire my daughter. She
Teaches, and they
Like her, but she’s
Getting married soon.
School board told her
They won’t ask her back.”
Sorry, said the four. Can’t
Help you there.
“Thank you.” She
Sat down.
Jack Hance, who’d
Kept his peace, stood up
Last and raised their
Sore point: those checks,
Late! “We need them
When they’re due.
Have to just
Hold out.”

Though disliked, Jack
Pleased them with that
“We”: those checks
Weren’t for Jack, they
Knew. And therefore
He could plead for
Checks, but they could
Not. The four men
Answered they’d speak
Quick to so-and-so.

With a formal
Motion, group adjourned.
Tom rose from his
Chair with his heart
Pounding.
A new kind of
Meeting: not like
Church. And not
Armistice Day where
Speakers stood on
Platforms, yelled down
At the crowd below.
He must meet that
White Shoes, to shake hands.
Tongue-tied, Tom drew
Near. He heard
The man’s hoarse breathing,
Shallow wheezing,
Rasping in the heat. Tom
Stepped up to him,
Pumped his hand,
Managed to say,
“Asthma?”
“Yes”: surprised.
“My wife too,” Tom
Said. The man then
Shook his head:
“Bad–” he sighed–
“Lord, that thing can
Kill.” Tom:
“Glad to meet you.”
“Likewise.”

So,
These: Roosevelt’s
Men. They were
Who he chose and
What he wanted,
White shoes, cars, or
No. Tom smiled.
Public meeting!–
And Bud Hines,
Who had lorded over
All street talk, why, he had
Shut his mouth this time.

Not Bud’s kind of
Meeting.
Tom thought
With a start: it’s
Mine.

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