318. May 30, 1935: A Letter Typed

“Dear Mr. Roosevelt:
     Sir, I’ll route this request
     Through proper channels.
     With your consent,
     I’m also writing you.

     First may I express
     Come last month, I’ve worked here
     For three years.
     I heard your first speech
     On radio.
     Next day, I went in.
     Said: I want to work
     For him.

     I’m with Relief, Rural,
     South Plains Office.
     You remember
     How we started out,
     Relief Division–
     No rules, no procedures,
     Bedlam reigned.
     I can see her still,
     Our Supervisor,
     First day, statewide meeting,
     I arrived.
     Hundreds of us,
     Fumbling with those forms–
     For Home Visits,
     Change of Situation,
     Medical Emergency of Minor,
     Grocery Order,
     Residence Appraisal,
     Birth of Applicant,
     Death of Applicant–
     Fresh from the ditto room,
     The ink still wet–
     State forms, D.C., local.
     We were frantic, wild
     To get these straight.
     Some girls broke down crying–
     We were green,
     Instructions made no sense–
     Line B Here,
     Subtract Lines C and A,
     Tally Income,
     Multiply Dependents.
     I can see it–
     Rows of folding chairs–
     Miss Claire in charge,
     Sailing to and fro,
     Bending down, with us all
     Shouting questions.
     In between
     The adding and subtracting,
     Papers, beige, brown, blue–
     ‘Page Two’s missing? Two?’
     She’d proclaim, head
     Floating down the row:
     ‘Winter’s here
     Before you know it–so
     Clients need blankets, girls!
     Move them out! Use 
     Warehouse Form, in gray!
     Autumn’s on us–
     Yes, I know, Page Two–
     Move those first week’s groceries!
     Office will okay
     Delays in forms–
     Keep your carbons–
     Move those blankets out!
     We’ll accept–girls, move those
     First week’s groceries.
     I want blankets out there,
     Right away!’

     Looking back,
     She should have had a medal.
     These days, sir, of course,
     Those forms are mine.
     I’m quick to catch on,
     If nothing else–I know
     ‘Income Guidelines’
     Better than my face.
     Lately I dream forms,
     Till I can’t sleep.
     I mail two, three hundred out
     Each month.
     But, it seems
     No matter what I send….

     Sir, you know that old hymn,
     ‘Feed My Sheep.’
     Not a Catholic hymn,
     From way back home–
     My mind wanders more and more
     To Boston–
     But I hear it sung
     In churches here.
     Well, last Sunday morning,
     I’d heard that one,
     As I drove off north,
     To county seat.
     Humming it,
     I shook off my blue mood.
     I’d a suitcase
     Packed full with those forms,
     All in order.
     Then I looked ahead.
     I saw children–five, six–
     In the field.
     Sisters, brothers–
     Sir, I recognized them,
     Clients, mine–
     You’ll forgive me
     If I keep their name–
     Well, they’re out there,
     On all fours.
     Hands and knees.
     Like a little herd.
     I’d known that their teeth
     Had all gone bad, and
     Little food, but….

     Sir, their father
     Hasn’t held a job,
     Since I don’t know when.
     First he tried,
     Drove here and there,
     But now–
     He sits. There’s really
     Nothing out there. But
     If I hear of yardwork, something,
     Tell him–
     He laughs. But it doesn’t
     Sound like human laughing.
     He’s not old.
     It’s over for him, sir.
     He’ll never work.
     He drinks. Best thing
     To say for him, he never
     Hits the kids.
     In my head, a voice:
     Where did I fail?
     What’s the point?
     What’s the point?
     How I’d like to shake him….
     For them, too, it’s over,
     I’m afraid.
     They’re not really mine, I see,
     These children.
     I see it more clear.
     What would I do,
     Even if they were?
     Mine to care for, but
     Not mine to save.
     Fields of them!
     South Plains Office of them.
     A world….

     Mr. Roosevelt, as of June tenth,
     I hereby tender,
     With greatest respect,
     My resignation
     As a Supervisor
     In the South Plains Office,
     Division of Relief,
     State of Texas.

                         K. Flynn”

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