by Arlene Wilgoren Dunn
11 years old, seventh grade,
green book bag slung over right shoulder,
old-fashioned hand-cranked streetcar ride
to Eggleston Station, then
bus to Huntington Avenue, then
sleek automatic streetcar ride.
after an hour
Girls Latin School.
Two years later
GLS moved to Codman Square.
One short bus ride away.
But missed the culture
of the Fenway
and the BLS boys.
So naïve, cosseted in Jewish Dorchester.
GLS unveiled life beyond.
First black girl to be my friend:
Junior year. 1957.
Confrontation in Little Rock
jumped out of my TV
into my living room.
Girls who looked like me,
but for skin color—
dressed like me,
carried books like me.
Angry white mob
blocking their way
hurling filthy slurs at them
spitting on them.
All to bar them from the simple act
of going to school,
something I blithely took for granted.
These images etched into my heart and mind.
Diagramming sentences – ugh!
Yet here I am mincing words, parsing phrases.
“Girls! Girls! Stop this nonsense!
You think I want to be here?
You’ll all be gone soon,
off to college to get your MRS degrees.
Your ship will come in.
Mine never did.
So here I am stuck with you.
Get back to work!”
No physics class?
In the Sputnik era?
Because we’re . . . ‘just girls’?
We organized, pestered, cajoled –
finally, got it in our senior year.
We started with love—
Amo. Amas. Amat.
Swiftly on to war and conflict.
Caesar crossing the Rubicon taught us
sometimes there’s no turning back.
Alea iacta est.
Virgil warned us to be careful who we trust.
Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes.
And a bit of philosophy from Cicero
prepared us to grasp the idea
that a soupcan could be art.
De gustibus non disputandum est!
60 years gone.
The threads we spun together
endure in the tapestry of my life.
Editors note: this poem by Arlene Wilgoren Dunn was first published on Matter: A (somewhat) monthly journal of political poetry and commentary on November 19, 2020.