WHITE GIRL, BLACK HEART

 WHITE GIRL, BLACK HEART: SUMMER ‘59

On that first Sunday, Annie dressed in green plaid,

                With Peter Pan collar, shoes, and purse all white.

                                Curly golden hair streamed down her back,

                                                While her blue eyes tried to hide her fright.

It took three buses to cross the town,

                Until, at last, she saw St. Mark’s steeple,

                                In a neighborhood of worn-out mansions and left-behind people.

Tawny browns and ebony blacks, mahogany and coffee-laced-with-milk

                Were some of the colors meeting her at the church door.

                                In satins and silks or cotton worn thin,

                                                Big-hatted women and crisp-suited men were all going in.

                                                                Children nudged and pointed at Annie, until stilled by a command.

Heavenly light showered down from stained glass

                To scatter more color across each yearning face.

                                Thundering piano and joyful choir sang of Grace.

There, at the sanctuary door, Annie heard Mrs. James demand,

                “How come you to hire that white teacher?

                                It’s my turn to lead our summer session.

                                             ‘Sides, we’s a black church now, Preacher!”

His answer came as he caught Annie’s eye,

                “Like I’ve been saying for months now,

                                White folks are fleeing,

                                                Black folks are seething,

                                                                When it should all be about believing!”

Annie slid into a pew nearby and studied the program without really seeing.

                What have I done?

                                What a horrible blunder!

                                                I don’t belong, I don’t fit in.

                                                                I’ve never had a close Negro friend.

I never marched against the drum to plead freedom for anyone.

                I know we’re equal but I don’t know much more.

                                Nothing of race or culture or custom.

                                                Little of strife or poverty or shame.

                                                                My family came first cabin from across the sea,

                                                                                Not as plunder or property.

 

What can I do here, a college girl, and a white one at that?

                I know the church and the Bible pretty well.

                                I can lead songs and follow the lesson, offer up prayers,

                                                And even wipe a child’s tears

                                                                 But of life, I know so little.

Lost in reverie, Annie’s soul began to stir to rhythms surrounding her.

                Song vibrated from wall to wall, people began to shout their Amens.

                                Her spirits lifted as Annie sang out, and looked at her neighbors.

                                                In God united they stood and swayed to the beat of a belief understood.

Grasping hands across the aisles, prejudice and fear were set aside.

                 Here was a place, a people and a task

                           Where Annie would do as good as she was asked.

* * *

It is hard to imagine Martin Luther King, Jr. at age 82, the age he would have been today if he’d escaped the assassin’s bullet in April 1968. What would he think of our condition on a “return visit” this week , if such were possible? I’m not certain of his response but suspect it would be a mixture of joy and regret. What might he celebrate or denounce, do you suppose?

How would he challenge us to extend the lessening of hate and intolerance in our world? What can we challenge ourselves to do?

 I’ve adopted minute actions: reduce my exposure to media portrayals of violence so as not to condone its use; monitor my language and expressions; and speak up, in whatever small ways I can, against the degradation of humanity.

 I’ll be interested in your comments.

               

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13 Comments

Filed under Poetry

13 responses to “WHITE GIRL, BLACK HEART

  1. Strong sentiments that I agree with. Have shunned violent entertaiment for many years and can still do a better job of all the challenges Arletta laid down.
    I did not see who wrote the poem? Lovely.

  2. Hi Linda,
    I’m delighted you are here and appreciate your comments. As to who wrote the poem,,,,,me, in 2007, drawing on a realife experience that has stayed with me 50+ years.
    Arletta

  3. Lovely post and poem, Arletta!

    I especially liked the last line. It’s so easy to feel that one little voice will never be heard, but silence is not an option.

  4. Kathleen,
    Thank you for taking time from your writing retreat to comment on my work. The poem started life as a short story many years ago, but it just didn’t work. I love your phrase: “silence is not an option.”
    Arletta

  5. Arletta, I would love to feature this poem on my site in April, which is National Poetry month. I already feature poetry once a month in a series I call Poetic License. The format would be very similar (http://morningerection.wordpress.com/2011/01/03/). Please check it out before deciding. I would really like my readers to see this poem.

    You will get a link back to this site and full credit. Thank you for taking the time to consider my request, regardless of what you decide. Also if you do say yes, I cannot promise I can follow the format you posted it in (indentations) on my blog.

  6. Hi Tom,
    I’m always pleased when readers respond nicely as you have and want to move the work along for me. This poem first appeared on http://www.riehlife.com, my friend Janet Grace Reihl’s blog back in 2007.
    Thank you.

    • I just visited her site. It is a great site. So full of different things to see and read. She’s been blogging for a good long time. Excuse my ignorance, but I’m not sure if you are or are not giving me permission. I don’t want any misunderstandings. I hope you understand Arletta.

  7. HI, again, Tom,
    I just sent you an email about April. Glad you enjoyed Janet’s site as she is a formidable lady with great instincts and ideas. She writes from the heart.

  8. Thanks, Robin,
    I’m glad you enjoyed the poem. It flowed once I gave up the idea of the short story version.
    Arletta

  9. Hi Arletta: I’m in the Redwood writers and I enjoyed getting to know you a bit on your about page and reading your blog. I like this poem and think you’re a good example of what Martin Luther King would challenge us to do…speak out against hate with our writing. It is funny how some things will not work as a story, but do work as a poem. I’ve had that experience too. Looking forward to meeting you face to face at one of our club meetings. Also can relat to you about being intimidated about joining a group if you’re not widely published. Carry on.

  10. Hi Barbara,
    You are very right about needing to find the right medium for the message/story. I thought the short story was pretty good but it didn’t find a home. Then, in a firestorm of poetry writing, it took this form. You might also like my poem Clara’s Air about the Underground Railroad; I’ll put it up soon. Thanks for being here and for subscribing.

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