Jared Carter Poetry

[Coxey's Army]

Recollections of a contingent of Coxey's Army
passing through Straughn, Indiana, in April of 1894

More than 2,500,000 men walked the streets in search of
work in the terrible winter of 1893-94. . . .  It was only
when government failed to act that angry men began to
take matters into their own hands.

In Massillon, Ohio, Jacob S. Coxey set about organizing
a massive march on Washington. . . .  On Easter Sunday
. . . 100 men set out for the Capitol, accompanied by half
as many reporters. . . .  No less than seventeen armies set
out for Washington in the spring of 1894.

                    Harold U. Faulkner
                    Politics, Reform and Expansion: 1890-1900

There by the rail fence in that lost, broken light, that moment
still wavering like a loose ribbon: whether she remembers most
the sound of their singing, or their march through the wagon ruts,
the angry crowd, the elm trees with their great curved branches—

“They cain’t be for Coxey, he done got killed a long time ago!”
somebody called out.  She remembered it was cold, she could see
her breath, how scared she became when her brothers threw rocks,
how her father cuffed them, while the marshal waved back the crowd—

and on they came, in ragged double file along the National Road,
none of them in step, some reaching to take an apple or a crust
of bread held out for them.  It was the first time she recalled
seeing black skin—a man, striding along, paying them no mind—

and in this way they slogged on past the store-fronts and taverns,
past the young doctor reined in and saluting—near the station
a preacher waving his hat, then running to heave a brick at them—
finally only children still following, pretending they had joined—

until they drew abreast of the Tipton place, with its stone wall,
the last house in town, only bare fields ahead of them now—
and she saw a stack of hedgeapples, sheltered by the stones,
that had lasted the winter, and hurried over to gather some—

made an apron with her skirt, as her grandmother had taught her,
and ran along the main road, calling after them until someone
looked around—a gray-haired man in a faded blue coat with badges
on the lapels, tarnished buttons, one arm pinned at the shoulder—

who with his left hand took the sodden green fruit she held out,
stuffing his pockets, nodding gravely, saying nothing she could
remember in later years, but finally reaching down to press
her fingers, then hurrying on, turning back once to wave to her.
from People's Culture [credits]
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