I felt as if I knew him. I felt as if he knew me.
—Young soldier, upon hearing about FDR’s death
We all listen to Franklin’s fireside chats,
straight from the White House to Our House,
though we have no fireplace to sit beside.
My mother, wrapped in a chenille robe
at the kitchen table, takes in those airwave
assurances, though she knows nothing of Hyde Park,
nothing of Dutchess County or New York.
Still, she believes she knows the Roosevelts—
those kindly faces and neighborly manners;
that down-home decency you see in country folk.
And there is something else she shares with FDR—
the ravages of polio. From twelve on, she has
lived her life on a shriveled leg and malformed foot;
she can imagine the trials of running a country
from a wheelchair—ordeal by the seat of one’s pants.
America’s problems are huge, says our president,
but the world’s are even bigger. And when a friend
needs help, as does England, we’ll be there, ready
to lend a garden hose to a neighbor whose house
has caught on fire. That hose becomes weaponry
and our ships face the deadly threat of U-boats
in the Atlantic. Nothing to do but see it through,
says Mother, who sees three brothers off to Normandy,
buys her first pair of slacks for a factory shift,
keeps herself radio-tuned for the duration.
I’ve just turned eleven when the citizenry loses a neighbor.
I watch Mother turn up the Philco, dab at tears,
sink into a chair at the Formica table. Truman takes over,
says, I feel like the moon, the stars and all the planets
have fallen on me. They’ve fallen on our house, too.