May 29, 2006

The Swing

by Timothy Steele

MONDAY, 29 MAY, 2006
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Poem: "The Swing" by Timothy Steele from Toward the Winter Solstice. © Swallow Press/Ohio University Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

The Swing

She shrieks as she sweeps past the earth
And, rising, pumps for all she's worth;
The chains she grips almost go slack;
Then, seated skyward, she drops back.

When swept high to the rear, she sees
Below the park the harbor's quays,
Cranes, rail tracks, transit sheds, and ranks
Of broad, round, silver storage tanks.

Her father lacks such speed and sight,
Though, with a push, he launched her flight.
Now, hands in pockets, he stands by
And, for her safety, casts his eye

Over the ground, examining
The hollow underneath the swing
Where, done with aerial assault,
She'll scuff, in passing, to a halt.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the novelist who wrote under the name Max Brand, (books by this author), Frederick Faust, born in Seattle, Washington (1892). He was the most prolific fiction writer in American history. He published more than two hundred novels in his lifetime, and for decades after his death, his unpublished novels continued to appear in paperback. He wrote thrillers, love stories and melodramas, but he specialized in the Western, even though he knew almost nothing about frontier life. He's best known for his novel Destry Rides Again (1930).

During the Great Depression, he was one of the best-paid pulp fiction writers in America, earning five cents a word. He managed to make about 100,000 dollars a year at that rate, finishing a full-length novel every week.

It's the birthday of the novelist and essayist G.K. (Gilbert Keith) Chesterton, (books by this author), born in London, England (1874). He's remembered today for his detective novels about the bumbling, crime-solving priest Father Brown, but during his lifetime he was primarily known as an essayist. He wrote constantly, about politics, society, literature and religion. He was one of the first critics to argue that Charles Dickens was a great novelist, after the decline of his reputation in the early twentieth century. He was one of the first people to argue that the influence of religion on public life would be replaced by the influence of advertisements.

It was on this day in 1932 that World War I veterans began arriving in Washington, D.C., demanding their military bonuses about fifteen years early. Congress had approved the bonuses as a retirement plan back in 1924, and those bonuses weren't supposed to be paid until 1945, when the soldiers had reached the age of retirement. But it was the Great Depression, and most of those veterans were out of work and living in poverty, and they were desperate for early bonuses to help them survive.

The Bonus March was the idea of an unemployed former Army sergeant named Walter Waters, who stood up at a veterans' meeting in Portland, Oregon, on March 15, 1932, and said that every man at the meeting should hop a train to Washington, D.C., and demand the money that was rightfully his.

Walter Waters and his men arrived in Washington, D.C., on this day in 1932. Over the next few months about 25,000 others joined them. They had been congregating in D.C. for almost a month when the bonus bill finally came to the floor. It was passed by the House of Representatives, but it was defeated in the Senate two days later. Many of the Bonus Marchers went home, disappointed, but the original group of men stayed behind, vowing to remain until they received justice.

President Herbert Hoover ordered the Army to drive them out of town. Several army battalions of cavalry and tanks advanced on the veterans, tossing tear-gas grenades and setting the shantytown on fire. Over the next week, newspapers and newsreels showed images of veterans fleeing the burning shantytown with their families, through clouds of tear gas and smoke, followed by tanks and mounted troops waving swords. It was a public relations disaster. When presidential candidate Franklin D. Roosevelt read a newspaper article about the eviction, he said, "This will elect me," and he was right.

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