Public Poetry

Rob Hardy was named Northfield’s first poet laureate last summer by the Northfield Public Library and the Arts and Culture Commission. A research associate in Carleton’s classics department, Hardy has since written several poems for public occasions, including this piece, which he read at a graveside memorial to commemorate the 140th anniversary of Joseph Lee Heywood’s death. Heywood died on September 7, 1876, when he refused to open the vault during the James-Younger Gang’s infamous attempted robbery of Northfield’s First National Bank.

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.
—Rob Hardy

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