11.19.2013

No Mixing Allowed on the 61C McKeesport

I boarded the bus downtown, took
a seat. You smiled, pulled off
your headphones, chatting me up:
I asked where you worked, you asked
about my work. You talked about
music, I described a book. I took
your notebook to write down
the title. (You gotta read this.)
It went like this all the way
through Oakland to Squirrel Hill, so
we did not notice the voice until
it got louder. Louder. LOUD.
HEY, YOU.
HEY, YOU. YOU.
GET OFF THE BUS.
GET OFF THE BUS.
OFF MY BUS.
OFF. GET OFF MY BUS.
You whispered next stop and rose
in slow motion, wound your way
through bodies, briefcases, glares.
After all, the bus was now late
and apparently you were the culprit.
The driver faced you on the street
yelling, pointing, cursing. In a daze,
I tried not to hear, could not look.
I heard GIRL. I heard NO. Everyone
on the bus was looking at you. At me.
You vanished as the bus pulled away.
Eyes down, I exited the silent bus
at Forbes and Murray. Ran a block
to you. You gripped my elbow. Your dark
eyes met mine: No promise there,
only defeat. I kissed your cheek.
We went our separate ways. Now, thirty
years later, I still wonder how you are.

I first wrote about this incident a few years back, but have been working to tighten it up and allow the story of the injustice to come through. Please let me know if you think I’ve succeeded.

#19 of 30 Poems In November to benefit Center for New Americans.

21 comments:

  1. Absolutely succeeded. Your matter of fact, almost journalistic approach initially laid the groundwork for the surprising and saddening outcome. Very effective narrative here. Nicely done (and remembered).
    Steve K.

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  2. As I said earlier, I can't believe this happened when it did. Consider yourself successful.

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  3. ah, thanks all. infuriating, still, after all these years.

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  4. you hooked me completely with the narrative.. and left me wondering... great piece....

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  5. Brings up memories of my own childhood, when people on my side of town(however poor) just didn't 'mix' with people on the other, but kids don;t know that, they have to be taught, Glad we both learned a different lesson from it--this is very concise and makes the point clearly, but without any preaching or excess pontificating--hard to do--nice work, Marian.

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  6. Good for you! And thanks for the poetry. Makes me think a bit of "Incident" Countee Cullen: http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/incident/

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  7. The narration keeps one in jitters not knowing what is next. It builds up the suspense to a crescendo. Yes, it did succeed! Nicely Marian!

    Hank

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  8. We have lived through an awful period of discrimination and unreasoning hatred, but should count ourselves lucky that we have come through, wiser, more humble, bearing witness to what we have seen and how we championed change. I'm sure that man is doing well today, because you showed him change was possible and he lived to see it too.

    Brava!

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    1. i'm sure he's seen change (as have i) but i didn't do anything to show him or anyone it was possible in that moment. i don't think so at all. it was a moment that has stuck with me always, though. and it was so intense i'd imagine he (and possibly others who witnessed it) would remember as well.

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  9. I like this version better Babyluv....and it makes me proud of you.

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  10. Oh my goodness. Sigh. In Vancouver I have seen highly stressed, angry and abrupt drivers. But, thankfully, kindly friendly ones. That poor girl. You have painted this scene to perfection and it will remain in my psyche.

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    1. this is 100% a memoir piece, i was the girl; the boy and i were both just-out-of-college with jobs downtown in Pittsburgh. i was a secretary, and if i remember correctly, he had an internship at a local TV station. the whole thing was shocking, but i wondered if the bus driver thought i was giving the guy my phone number and just flipped his lid.

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  11. Powerful … it is a terrible thing to witness such anger, one person humiliating another… how could you not be moved to wonder and write it out.

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  12. I remember how an incident on a school bus changed my life....I was only in the first grade and I stood up with all my little girl height and asked why those kids always had to sit in the back of the bus. The next day I was assigned a high school senior to sit with me and pinch me if I even tried to speak. Such a powerful memory and written so well Marian.

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    1. go Susie! i can so imagine you doing that as a child. xoxo

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  13. Yinz has a real feel not only for people and personality, but a knack for describing dahntahn 'n 'at.

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  14. This is a wonderful write, Marian, but the driver's behavior chilled me to the bone.
    K

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  15. i think my "thirty years" later line is wrong, upon reflection... this happened, i think, in 1989.

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