Nov. 7, 2009

The Thumb

by Peter Schneider

In a nanosecond David lost his thumb,
the one his mother painted
with pine pitch when he was four
to keep him from forever sucking it.
Unable to distinguish human flesh
the McCormick silo filler
sliced it off—
nail, bone, knuckle—
and blew it skyward
an ounce of humanity
in a thousand tons of silage.

Taken by surprise
David suppressed the truth.
Before the rush of blood
he held up the stump
saw the clean cut
grey bone marrow visible
and thrust it in his mouth
where the memory
of childhood security lay.
Then he swore,
tears rushing to his eyes, and ran
holding the stump with his good hand
blood oozing between his fingers.

Joe, a huge bulk of a man
and a constant neighbor,
jumped from his wagon
caught David like a child
held him to his chest
not intimidated by blood
or the tears of a grown man.

"The Thumb" by Peter Schneider, from Line Fence. © Amherst Writers & Artists Press, 2006. Reprinted with permission.

Today is the anniversary of a great many milestones in American election history.

On this day in 1944, Franklin D. Roosevelt was re-elected to fourth term as president. It was during the Second World War, and the incumbent FDR heftily defeated Thomas E. Dewey. A few years later, the 22nd constitutional amendment was passed, limiting a president to two elected terms in office.

On this day in 1967, the first black mayor of a major American city was elected: Carl Stokes of Cleveland, Ohio. And on this day 20 years ago, Douglas Wilder won the Virginia gubernatorial election, becoming the nation’s first elected African-American governor. That same year of 1989, David Dinkins became New York City’s first black mayor.

On this day in 1990, Ireland elected its first woman president: Mary Robinson.

Ten years later, on this day in 2000, Hillary Clinton was elected to the Senate, making her the first First Lady to win public office in America. That same day, George W. Bush was elected president over Al Gore, even though Gore won the popular vote.

On this day in 2006, the first Muslim was elected to the U.S. Congress: Keith Ellison, a Democrat from Minnesota. He was raised Catholic and converted to Islam the year after he graduated from a Jesuit high school in Detroit.

On this day in 1929, New York’s Museum of Modern Art opened to the public. The Wall Street Crash had happened just nine days before. The museum’s first exposition featured loan paintings by Van Gogh, Cezanne, and Seurat.

It was on this day in 1917 that the October Revolution in Russia brought the first Communist government in the world to power, under the control of Vladimir Lenin. The date was October 25 in the Julian calendar, which Russia was using at the time. There had been a semi-Democratic government in Russia since 1905, with the czar theoretically sharing power with a parliament. But the czar had grown increasingly unpopular, especially since the beginning of World War I. The Russian army was poorly equipped and poorly led, and Russian soldiers were slaughtered in the thousands by the Germans. World War I also disrupted the economy and created huge food shortages. The price of available goods rose astronomically.

Soldiers began deserting the Russian army and many of them went to St. Petersburg, where food riots broke out in the winter of 1917. There were demonstrations calling for an end to the war and an end to the czar's rule. To prevent revolution, Czar Nicholas II stepped down from the throne on March 15th, 1917 and he was replaced by a provisional government.

That summer, Russia experienced a brief taste of true democracy. Freedom of speech was granted to both individuals and newspapers for the first time. All political and religious prisoners were given amnesty. And all citizens were given the right to vote in secret ballot elections. But the provisional government decided to continue fighting in the extremely unpopular war against Germany, and that helped fuel opposition groups.

In April of 1917, Vladimir Lenin crossed the border back into Russia after 10 years of exile, first in Siberia and then in western Europe, where he had been plotting how to start a socialist revolution. It was Lenin who gave the order for the workers' militia to seize government buildings on this day in 1917, and the coup met almost no resistance. Then, the next day, Lenin was elected chairman of the Council of the new Soviet Government. Overnight, he had gone from a fugitive in hiding to the leader of the revolutionary government in the largest country in the world.

It's the birthday of writer Albert Camus (books by this author) born in Mondovi, Algeria (1913). His book The Stranger was published in 1942, followed by a collection of essays, The Myth of Sisyphus (1942).

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