Treasure Island

Diane Hine

(25 July 1956)

Building the Panama Canal


1907 - The White House.
Theodore Roosevelt scowled. His pince-nez scowled too. He hammered his manly fist on the desk beside a plate of biscuits.
‘Make the dirt fly, I said, did I not Aiden? '
‘Yes Mr President, you did, ' replied the aide.
‘Then what's the hold-up this time? '
‘The chief engineer quit again Sir.'
‘Who's that then? '
‘Wallace and Stevens Sir, '
‘Wallace Stevens? You mean we hired a poetaster to build the canal? '
‘Ooh, that's a bit harsh Mr President. If you'll allow me to quote:
…She loves me or loves me not
…What care I? -
…The depth of the fields is just as sweet,
…And sweet the sky.*
‘That's lovely don't you think Sir? I think it's lovely.'
‘Never mind that Aiden, answer the question.'
‘Sorry Sir, I meant Wallace AND Stevens. Two years ago John Findlay Wallace quit and now John Frank Stevens has too.'
‘Oh….okay. Have a biscuit Aiden, I made them myself.'
‘Thank you Sir, ' said Aiden, taking one and cupping his hand beneath his chin to catch the crumbs.
‘What do you think - do you like it? '
‘Mmmm….it's yummy Mr President.'
‘They're light and fluffy aren't they? '
‘Remarkably fluffy Sir.'
‘I'm a fluffy kind of guy Aiden.'
‘Yes Sir.'
‘So, why did Wallace quit? '
‘I'm not sure Sir - possibly he found the mosquitoes tiresome.'
‘And Stevens? '
‘Um…I think it was too hot.'
‘Civilians are mollycoddles! Get me the army on the phone Aiden.'
‘The army, Sir? '
‘Yeah, the guy in charge.'
‘Er… that would be you Mr President.'
‘I know that. Alright, go round there yourself then and….'
‘Round where Sir? '
‘Wherever it is the army hang out Aiden. Knock on the door, say I sent you and ask if we can borrow an engineer.'
‘Yes Mr President.'
‘Here, have another biscuit before you go and take one for the army guys.'
‘Thank you Sir.'
‘Remember Aiden…'
‘Remember what Sir? '
‘Speak up and carry a biscuit.'
‘If you'll forgive me Mr President, I think you've misquoted yourself. I believe you meant to say -Speak softly and carry a big stick.'
‘That'd never work Aiden - not with the army - they'd shoot you. No, you're better off with a biscuit.'
‘Yes Sir.'
‘One more thing before you go Aiden.'
‘Yes Sir? '
‘Army deserters get shot, don't they? '
‘Oooh……not in peacetime Sir. There're um.…procedures like er…. pay administrative JAG custody correctional thingamy OTHC forfeiture Martial discharge Court Summery something General……'
‘Don't try to impress me with big words Aiden.'
‘No Sir, sorry Sir.'
‘I'm the guy in charge of the whole army - you said so, right? '
‘You are Mr President - yes.'
‘The government is me; I am the government, not you me.'
‘If I may be so bold Sir, I believe you meant to say - The government is us; we are the government, you and I.'
‘Not this time Aiden'
‘No Sir.'
‘So, tell the army engineer I'll shoot him if he doesn't make the dirt fly.'
‘hmmm………'
‘One last thing Aiden.'
‘Yes Mr President? '
‘Buy the man a Panama hat.'

Submitted: Sunday, August 24, 2014
Edited: Monday, August 25, 2014

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Topic(s): history

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Poet's Notes about The Poem

Army Major George Washington Goethals directed work on the Panama Canal from 1907 until its successful completion in 1914.
Aiden is fictional, as is this conversation.
*The Harvard Advocate March 13 1899

Comments about this poem (Building the Panama Canal by Diane Hine )

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  • Daniel Brick (8/29/2014 2:21:00 AM)

    I love the Wallace Stevens misunderstanding, leading to sheer nonsense. It takes about the same amount of time for the nonsense to happen in this parody as it does for a poem by Stevens to become opaque. If you want to test that, try reading Stevens's NOTES TOWARD A SUPREME FICTION. By page 3 you'll be HUH? ? I like your parody of the super-male T. Roosevelt (a dinosaur species should be named after him!) . But could pass around a tray of Presidential biscuits. (Report) Reply

  • Dinesh Nair (8/28/2014 7:06:00 AM)

    I have never thought the Americans referred to here could be made so humorous in their conversation with Diane making them lively and resourceful as you have portrayed them here.
    Fiction reinvents its new forms in your writes Diane and you have no substitutes in PH, I think. (Report) Reply

  • Valsa George (8/26/2014 4:20:00 AM)

    I enjoyed most Roosevelt's mistaking of Wallace and Stevens the two engineers as Wallace Stevens, the celebrated American poet! Is that quote on love original from Wallace's poem or a concocted version just as the conversation between Roosevelt and Aiden? Any way quite interesting Diane! (Report) Reply

  • Anthony Di''anno (8/25/2014 10:20:00 AM)

    Ah you say that Diane,

    but I bet the original transcript and grainy video exist on youtube somewhere.

    A very witty write that reminds me of the phrase 'many a true word said in jest'

    I presume there were no colony's of Great Crested Newts in the area. That would have fettled his ash. (Report) Reply

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