The Poem

The Poem that started it all!

Marguerite Young, “The Clinic,” Moderate Fable, New York, Reynal & Hitchcock, 1944.

The Warden wept before the lethal beans
Were dropped that night in the airless room,
Fifty faces apeering against glassed screens,
A clinic crowd outside the tomb.

In the corridor a toy train pursued
Its tracks past countryside and painted station
Of tinny folk. The doomed man’s eyes were glued
On these, he was the tearless one

Who waited unknowing why the warden wept
And watched the toy train with the prisoner
Who watched the train, or ate, or simply slept.
The warden wrote a sorry letter,

“The man you kill tonight is six years old,
He has no idea why he dies,”
Yet he must die in the room the state has walled
Transparent to its glassy eyes.

And yet suppose no human is more than he,
The highest good to which mankind attains
This dry-eyed child who watches joyously
The shining speed of toy trains,

What warden weeps in the stony corridor,
What mournful eyes are peering through the glass,
Who will ever shut a final door
And watch the fume upon a face?

Richard F. Voorhees

Mari Sandoz (Old Jules, Crazy Horse) lived in New York’s Greenwich Village from 1943 until her death in 1966. During this period she published twelve volumes of history and fiction. Shortly after her arrival she met Marguerite Young. I first encountered Young’s name in Sandoz’s date book. They along with other friends often dined at Luchow’s restaurant on east 14th St. In 1992 I was in New York to visit Sandoz friends and students. In preparation I read Young’s Angel in the Forest, Miss MacIntosh, My Darling, in which a Sandoz-like character appears, and Moderate Fable (1944). The latter is a collection of poems including “The Clinic.” I spent several hours with Young in her Bleeker Street apartment lined with books from floor to ceiling in every room including the bathroom. By the door were the complete works of Sandoz and other close friends.

“The Clinic” features a weeping warden, a toy train and the execution of a “dry eyed” child. No names of persons or places are mentioned. I sent a copy of the poem to Robert Perske. We’ve been friends since the late 50’s when he regularly aggravated me as I tried to serve meals to the staff of the Española, New Mexico hospital. Bob’s research revealed that the poem was about Joe Arridy. Perske later talked with Young to obtain permission to reprint the poem on this site. He asked Marguerite how she came to know about Arridy. She did not recall.

It is likely that her source was Mari Sandoz. Sandoz grew up in northwestern Nebraska. Her literary work was an exploration of how the world appears in that region. She was intensely interested in all that occurred, past and present, in the area between the Missouri and the Rocky Mountains. At the time of Arridy’s execution she was living in Denver. Sandoz was a reader of newspapers and had many sources of information including the columnist Thomas Ferril and publisher Alan Swallow. Mari was in a position to vividly share Joe Arridy’s many layered story with Marguerite.

Richard F. Voorhees, retired sociology/anthropology instructor.