Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The Acting Cashier

Today, one hundred an forty years to the day after the bank raid, people of Northfield gathered to honor Joseph Lee Heywood, the acting cashier of the bank on the day the James-Younger Gang rode into town, who was murdered for refusing to open the safe and hand over the money deposited there. The speakers at today's graveside service in Northfield Cemetery were Pastor Duane Everson, Mayor Dana Graham, David Mucha (vice-president of the Northfield Historical Society), Fred Rogers (treasurer, Carleton College), and Rob Hardy (Northfield Poet Laureate). I concluded the program with a reading of this poem I wrote for the occasion.

The Acting Cashier

One hundred forty years ago, he was deposited in this ground
like a bond that bears its interest once a year.
As if a time-lock had opened, the street in front of the bank
fills with the citizens of 1876. At scheduled times,
unreconstructed outlaws spur their horses into town,
shots are fired, and Joseph Lee Heywood lives
his last moments for the crowd. At night, carnival lights
illuminate the town. But before the crowds have gathered,
here in this quieter place, we remember an ordinary man—
a man who worked and prayed with other ordinary people,
who in his ordinariness might never have been known
if a single moment hadn’t cast him as a hero. We cannot all
be heroes, but we can all be so remarkably ordinary—
so humble, so generous in giving of ourselves, so steadfast
in our refusal to stand aside for what we know is wrong.
Who was this man who lies in the vaulted earth beneath our feet?
We can only know him by knowing each other.
The faithfulness of his life cannot be reenacted,
it can only be lived. This is the dividend he pays:
his life, divided among all of us, to be lived together.

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