Mar. 9, 2006

False Teeth

by Patricia Dobler

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Poem: "False Teeth" by Patricia Dobler from Collected Poems. © Autumn House Press. Reprinted with permission.

False Teeth

Walking back to her sister's house,
woozy from relief and Novocain,
she nearly trips on the B&O tracks.
Then she sees it. A $20 bill.

Not crumpled. Folded between the ties,
pleated into a little fan, as if arranged
by whatever tooth fairy looks after
30-year old women who lose all their teeth.

When she walks into her sister's and grins,
she scares the baby—her swollen face,
the gums still bleeding, her words clotted
like the cries of an animal—

They think she's gone crazy with pain until
she holds up the money. The men are laid off
again, but she can pay the dentist
what he's owed, she can buy false teeth.

They say, "For every child, a tooth,"
and this is a story for children
whose toothless mother lost
and found and came out even.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1933 that newly inaugurated President Franklin D. Roosevelt called a special session of Congress and began the first hundred days of enacting his New Deal legislation.

It was the Great Depression. A quarter of the American workforce was unemployed. The prices for industrial goods and agricultural products were falling. There were breadlines in every major city for all the unemployed and hungry. Thousands of people roamed the country on freight trains looking for odd jobs and handouts. Banks were failing at an unprecedented rate, and millions of Americans had lost all or part of their savings.

So people were shocked by Roosevelt's cheerful demeanor when they saw him just before his inauguration. He was facing one of the most difficult domestic situations in the country's history, but he seemed excited about it. At his first press conference, on March 8, 1933, the reporters were surprised that the new president actually talked to them. Almost all previous presidents had refused to talk off the cuff with reporters, but Franklin Roosevelt didn't mind answering all kinds of questions about what he planned to do for the country's problems.

And then on this day in 1933 he called Congress into session. He had Democratic majorities in both houses, and many of the new members had been elected on his coattails. So the Congress became a kind of rubber stamp for the passage of some of the most sweeping federal legislation that had ever been passed in our country's history.

The first piece of legislation the President proposed was the Emergency Banking Act. Congress had been rushed into session so quickly that there was no printed version of the bill available. So a clerk read the bill aloud for the representatives. Even though no one had a chance to examine it in detail, the bill passed after forty minutes of debate. Roosevelt signed it that evening. Within a month, seven out of every ten banks in the country were open again, and there were no more runs on cash.

For the next few months, bills were passed almost daily. Among the new federal programs created were the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, which distributed half a billion dollars to the poor; the Civilian Conservation Corps, which employed people to work on forestry projects; the Public Works Administration, which employed people to build bridges, dams and roads all across the country; the Tennessee Valley Authority, which employed people to build and maintain dams on the Tennessee River, controlling flooding and providing cheap energy; and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which provided for the first insurance of banking deposits.

It was the largest expansion of the Federal Government in U.S. history. Roosevelt said, "The country needs and ... demands bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something. The millions who are in want will not stand idly by silently forever while the things to satisfy their needs are within easy reach."

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