Kooser called from Nebraska to say he’d found
a large cinder on a long walk along abandoned
country railroad tracks, a remnant of steam
trains, the cinder similar to those our fathers
shoveled from coal furnaces in the early winter mornings
before stoking the fire. In your dark bedroom
you’d hear the scrape of the shovel and the thump
when cinders were dropped in metal washtubs.
Now the trains are all diesel and in Livingston at night
I hear them pass, Burlington & Northern, the horn
an immense bassoon warning the drunks at crossings.
Some complain but I love this night music,
imagining that some of the railroad cars are from
my youth when I stood in a pasture and thrilled
to my favorite, “Route of the Phoebe Snow.”
To be excited by a cinder is to be excited about life.
“Kooser called from Nebraska to say he'd found...” by Jim Harrison from Livingston Suite. © Limberlost Press, 2005. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)
Franklin Delano Roosevelt was inaugurated on this date in 1933. By the time of his inauguration, the country had been mired in the Great Depression for more than three years. Roosevelt won in a landslide over Republican incumbent Herbert Hoover.
Most Americans didn’t know the extent to which Roosevelt’s paralytic illness had affected him, and he took great pains to keep it that way. In order for him to ascend the steps to the podium to take the oath of office, an elaborate series of wheelchair-accessible ramps was constructed and hidden behind barriers. He walked the last few yards leaning heavily on the arm of his son James, and he made it look easy even though it took great strength.
His inaugural address included the famous phrase “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
Frances Perkins took her post as U.S. Secretary of Labor on this date in 1933. She was the first woman to serve on an American president’s cabinet. She had become involved in politics after witnessing the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City in 1911. It was one of the deadliest industrial disasters in American history: nearly 150 garment workers died. Perkins made workplace safety her first political cause, and helped draft many fire regulations that are still followed today. Franklin Roosevelt, who at that time was serving as governor of New York, named her to his Industrial Commission, and he relied heavily on her advice throughout his career. Before he began his first term as president, he offered her the cabinet post; she told him she would accept if he would agree to let her address several labor problems that she felt needed fixing. Roosevelt agreed.
Oswald Garrison Villard, the editor of The Nation, praised FDR for his choice, predicting that Perkins would prove to be “an angel at the Cabinet in contrast with the sordidness and inhumanity of her predecessors.” But many people, including labor union bosses, opposed the nomination of a woman to the post. Perkins believed men were more amenable to women who reminded them of their mothers, so she dressed modestly and rarely wore makeup. She kept quiet in meetings. She later recalled: “I tried to have as much of a mask as possible. I wanted to give the impression of being a quiet, orderly woman who didn’t buzz-buzz all the time. [...] I knew that a lady interposing an idea into men’s conversation is very unwelcome. I just proceeded on the theory that this was a gentleman’s conversation on the porch of a golf club perhaps. You didn’t butt in with bright ideas.”
Her policies did away with child labor in the United States. They also led the way to the 40-hour workweek, the Federal Labor Standards Act, and Social Security — and they formed a large part of the New Deal.
It’s the birthday of the novelist Khaled Hosseini (books by this author), born in Kabul, Afghanistan (1965). His first novel, The Kite Runner (2003), was a word-of-mouth best-seller, and it has sold millions of copies around the world. In 2007, he published A Thousand Splendid Suns, and it was also an international best-seller. The novel begins in 1975 and continues to the present time. It tells the story of two women in Kabul who are both wives of the same cruel man. His most recent novel is And the Mountains Echoed (2013).
Khaled Hosseini said: “There is a romantic notion to writing a novel, especially when you are starting it. You are embarking on this incredibly exciting journey, and you’re going to write your first novel, you’re going to write a book. Until you’re about 50 pages into it, and that romance wears off, and then you’re left with a very stark reality of having to write the rest of this thing [...] A lot of 50-page unfinished novels are sitting in a lot of drawers across this country. Well, what it takes at that point is discipline [...] You have to be more stubborn than the manuscript, and you have to punch in and punch out every day, regardless of whether it’s going well, regardless of whether it’s going badly [...] It’s largely an act of perseverance [...] The story really wants to defeat you, and you just have to be more mulish than the story.”