The Bus Trip

For Saturday September 28Th 2013 “Real Toads” poetry prompt stemming from the very popular Book “The Secret Life of Bees” by Sue Monk Kidd. I have not read the book. But I knew immediately what had inspired me to write. I find myself in this position more often that not. A prompt is coming, and before I see it my inspiration comes. That often means that I must fit my inspiration to the prompt instead of allowing the prompt to inspire. But the description of the book so inspired me that yet again the inspiration came before the prompt or in this case the 10 different prompts, each a different quote from the book. I chose the following quote for surely it is related to my most poignant experience during the civil rights years. Here are some facts about my youth that produced my attitudes regarding race relations. And I must state that at this time in my life I might get a date or two off, not quite right.

I grew up in New England my family moving from Scarsdale New York when I was about five. There were no persons of color in the area in which I grew up. The “N” word flew out of my mother’s mouth with disgusting regularity. I did not grow up with a television. My news exposure was to WBZ Boston radio, the Rutland Herald, Time and Life magazine. Because we three siblings had no exposure to persons of color and because my mother was so racist we were quite confused and didn’t really understand this hatred of people, people like us, but not like us, people whose skin was many different colors – we just didn’t grasp this hatred. We never really saw any African Americans. This poem is about my trip to Maryland during the March on Washington. I was about 15, and moved as never before in my life during this long bus trip.

The quote:

“It is the peculiar nature of the world to go on spinning no matter what sort of heartbreak is happening.”

The Bus Trip

It was summertime and the days were warm, breezy, lazy.
In the river I floated upon the big raft, dangling my hands in water.

I looked up at the blue sky, billowy clouds floating by,
I was quiet, warm, comforted, at peace.

Walking along the river I kicked skunk cabbages.
They fascinated me kind of releasing a skunky smell.

They were everywhere thick along the waters edge.
I turned to my left walking through the riding ring.

Heading up the hill towards the house.
I had ridden earlier that day and contemplated my trip.

I would leave in a week taking a long Greyhound bus ride.
I was traveling from Vermont to Maryland.

I would be in the middle of hunt country.
There I would fox hunt for the next month.

This was a way of keeping me out of trouble.
The sort of trouble fifteen years old girls get into.

I heard about the March On Washington
I knew that it was very big, very important.

But it felt like it was worlds away, happening soon.
Who were these people to whom everyone was so cruel?

Why this cruelty, why this terrible meanness?
Why did Mummy use the word nigger so much?

It brought meanness to our home. I did not like that word.
What was wrong with her?

Tomorrow it was time to leave, to go away from home.
I packed, my breeches, my jackets, my hard hat, my crop.

But most important was my little transistor radio.
It was my link to the world. It would be put into my purse.

It was grey about the size of a pack of Mummy’s Lucky Strikes.
It had a round dial, I could hear Boston, a couple of other stations.

Tomorrow was the day that it was all happening.
I was leaving and The March was beginning.

I carried my bag, I got on the bus, I went to the back.
I snuggled up and watched who got on.

Always there were a few soldiers.
There were old men and women carrying paper bags.

And that was it. The door slid shut.
I liked the way the door closed. I enjoyed watching it close.

We started off on our journey, a long journey.
I ate my tuna fish sandwich.

Eating made me feel good, less lonely.
I snuggled in for a nap, but I could not sleep.

I got out my radio. It had started, The March.
Hundreds of people were going, thousands.

Then it got to be hundreds of thousands.
So many black people and white people too.

The marchers were so brave, they were doing something important.
Everyone should go on The March On Washington.

Especially if it would stop this terrible treatment of negro people.
Why did they make them live in separate places?

Why did white people hurt them? Why were people so mean?
The masses of people were becoming bigger and bigger now.

But it was peaceful, not like Birmingham, that terrible fire.
And soon there would be speeches by important men.

Mr. King, I knew that he was important.
He would make a difference. He would make it right.

I did not understand, why can’t negroes use the same bathrooms?
The only negro I knew was in my class, she had too many freckles.

Her father was an important man he was at the UN.
Now I was crying, this really was so unfair, this terrible hatred.

I just didn’t understand this hating so much.
I was glad I was listening to my radio.

I wish that I could get off the bus and go to The March.
It would be so much better than riding a horse to hounds and chasing a fox.

What is good about letting dogs rip apart a cute little fox?
I really want to get off this bus, now!

I want to do something meaningful. But where would I go?
How would I get to Washington, what if the march was over?

I laid back in my seat agitated wanting to be a part of this March.
But no, I was too young. I would only get into trouble.

I was sobbing. I hated these things. I hated all this unfairness.
I hated the terrible meanness. I hated going to Maryland.

The trip seemed so stupid in light of The March On Washington.
There one was going to make a difference!

Placed at The Imaginary Garden With Real Toads and at Poets United Sunday Poetry Pantry. This AM someone, a poet whom I did not know told that yesterday was !00,000 Poets for Change Day. This poem is also for marking that day.

18 thoughts on “The Bus Trip

  1. what an awakening eh? i remember a similar awakening for me in elementary school…my kindergarten teacher was african american…we had maybe one family in our school that was african american…but i remember realizing how we were just people and not understanding why some were treated different…and how it made me feel as well…i was small for my age so i was seen as different too..and then later in life after finding my own strength wanting to fiht for others that could not themselves….

  2. I too grew up in an area where there was racism, though of a different sort – but just as hateful… What is it with humans that they cling so much to their own colour, their own god, their own way… that they can’t even see the other as human? A moving poem, powerful.

  3. Liz, as authentic as a write can be. Speaks volumes of who you are. The intimacy of your reflection is incredibly affecting. I’d be embarrassed for my father to be around some of my friends. Like your mother, he could only talk ill of white folks. I didn’t get it either. How was it alright to be equally guilty of hating someone purely on the color of their skin. I know more now why (terrible treatement) still, I didn’t see how hate was going to change anything.

    I’m glad your’e in my world and you’ve invited me in yours. Makes sense. What we share makes sense.

  4. Loving the personal write ~ You gave me a glimpse of what it was before, how hate could be justified (or not) based on colour, then the March in Washington ~ Thanks for sharing this ~

  5. Liz, I love it when you write such memory pieces. I so relate – there was racism in our family too and I felt its wrongness deeply. It would have been wonderful to have been on that march but at fifteen, one isnt old enough to depart from the plan, no money for one thing to extend the trip. Loved this write. Thank you so much.

  6. Thanks for sharing such a personal piece. My awakening to racism came when I was six years old on a school bus. Every day I saw kids head to the back seats. One morning I stood up in all my child height, pointed my finger to the back of the bus and asked, “Why do those kids always have to sit in the back?” You could have heard a pin drop From the next day on I was assigned a senior in high school to sit with me and pinch me every time I tried to speak. (Our school was still segregated at the time, but we did take kids to their “school”.
    Thank you so much for taking part in the challenge!!

    • Liz,

      An education of a time in history, with habits as norms which now shock. Hoping that a lifetime almost inbetween, may have made real changes possible…Unfortunately I was the receiver of outright racism in Atlanta, just after President Obama was elected..Never heard such evil words spoken by a white bell-hop, when I asked about visiting the grave of Martin Luther King. I am not convinced that racism has been eradicated…Northern Ireland is a living example.

      Eileen

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