ALABAMA SUMMER 1944
by Donald Parker
Saturday of heat and sweat
After morning chores,
before an afternoon of friends and movies,
before a short bus ride and Krystal burgers.
A boy of nine, impatient, and craning
to see the Court Street bus round the corner;
a boy to soon become the Lone Ranger,
to ride and shoot and shout: “Hi Ho Silver, Away!”
I liked window seats, but all were gone;
I took an aisle. The woman next to me
was large and black, and me the only white
behind that painted line. It won’t be long
I thought, but the tires were not moving.
The driver left his seat and came back to me.
He smiled and gently touched my arm:
“Stand up a minute, son,” he said. I did.
The sweat rolled down his face, and leaning
over her he spit the words: “Get up, nigger!
Move on back.
Move! Now! Stand back there with them others.”
She slid across the seat and down the aisle.
“It’s all right, son, you can sit back down,
take the window seat; it’s free now.”
But I was not. My chest hurt; it was hard
to breathe. I sat, and the bus was pulling out
from the curb. All thoughts of Krystals and movies…gone.
The black woman was not. I looked at her.
She smiled and slowly shook her head.
I pulled the cord to tell the driver to stop the bus—
and pushed between the opening doors before it did.
The few blocks home were fast and slow and blurred.
My dad still mowed the yard: “Son, what’s wrong…”
I ran past him and up the front porch steps,
into my room, onto my bed, trying to escape her silence
and that black-and-white photo burning.
Donald Parker is an executive leadership coach in Greenwich, Connecticut. He earned an MFA from the University of the South, Sewanee and a diploma in Ecumenical Studies from the University of Geneva, Switzerland. His work has been published in California Quarterly, pamplemousse, and Sundog Lit.