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.