Sunday, October 30, 2016

Rosa Parks Halloween 2005—Patrick Murfin Poetry

Rosa Park, Mother of the Civil Rights Movement.

On October 24, 2005 Rosa Parks died in Detroit, Michigan at the age of 93.  She was revered as the Mother of the Civil Rights Movement for sparking the Montgomery Bus Boycott by refusing to give her seat to a white man.  A young minister named Martin Luther King, Jr. was selected to lead the long campaign that led to one of the first great victories in for the Civil Rights Movement in the South.
After her death that year, she was widely honored including the unheard of honor for a private citizen who never held high civil or military office of being laid in state in the Rotunda  of the United States Capitol.  Tens of thousands filed silently by her coffin on October 31—Halloween.
I was inspired to write a poem by news coverage of the solemn event. With unwarranted audaciousness, I chose to write in her voice.  I had recently listened to some extended interviews and could clearly hear her soft, breathy tone and gentle Southern accent in my head.  I knew then, and I know now, that there will be some that take great offense—particularly because I have her voice comments about crime and young men in her troubled Detroit neighborhood.  But I had also heard her make similar comments in life.
I have read this work several times and it has appeared in this blog before.  But it seems an apt moment to revisit it.

Rosa Parks lying in State in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol on Haloween, 2005.
Rosa Parks on Halloween  2005
I didn’t hold truck with Halloween.
I was a good Christian woman.
Ask anyone who ever knew me,
            they will tell you so.

Back in Detroit young fools,
            with pints and pistols
            in their back pockets
            burned the neighborhood
            each Halloween.
Hell Night they called it
            and it was.
Heathen business, I say.

I passed on a few days ago.
Time had whittled me away.
Small as I was to begin with,
            I had no weight left
            to tie me to the earth.

Now I lay in a box on cold marble.
The empty dome of the Capital
            pretends to be heaven above.
A river of faces turns around me,
            gawking, weeping, murmuring.
I see them all.

Maybe those old Druids,
            pagan though they were,
            were right about the air
            between the living and the dead
            being thin this day.

More likely that Sweet Chariot
            has parked somewhere
            and let me linger a while
            just so I could see this
            before swinging low
            to carry me home.

It makes me proud alright.
I was always proud.
Humility before the Lord
            may be a virtue,
            but humility before the master
            was the lash that kept
            Black folks down.
We grew pride as a back bone.

All of this is nice enough.
But let me tell you,
            since I’ve been gone,
            I’ve seen some foolishness
            and heard plenty, too.

They talk all kinds of foolishness
            about that day in Montgomery.
All that falderal about my feet being tired.
It wasn’t my soles that ached.
It was my soul.

It wasn’t any sudden accident either.
No sir, I prayed at the AME church.
I went to the Highland School
            for rabble rousers and trouble makers.
I met with the brothers at the NAACP
            who were a little afraid
            of an uppity woman.

Another thing.
That day was not my whole life.
There were 42 years before
            and fifty more after.
There was plenty of loving and grieving,
            sweat and laughter,
            and always speaking my mind
            very plainly, thank you.

Sure, there were parades.
There were medals and speeches, too.
But there were also long lonely days.

Once, up in Detroit,
            I was beat half to death
            in my own home
            by a wild eyed thug.
He didn’t care if I was
            the Mother of Civil Rights.
He never heard of Dr. King
            or the bus boycott.
All he wanted was my Government money.
            so he could go out
            and hop himself up some more.

That a young Black man
            could do that to an old woman,
            any old woman,
            near broke my heart.
That I could step out my door           
            and see copies of him
            lolling on every street corner
            made me mad.

We may have changed the world,
            like they kept saying.
We didn’t change it enough.
We didn’t keep the hope from
            being sucked out of the city.

This business in the Capital    
            is alright, I suppose.
And it was nice enough to be brought
            back to Montgomery, too,
            laid out in the chapel
            of my home church.
But clearly some folks have
            gone out of their minds.

Why, in Houston the other day,
            before a World Series game,
            they had the crowd stand silent
            in my memory.
It was a sea of white faces
            who paid a seamstress’s
            wages for a month for a seat.
It seems the only Black faces
            were on the field
            or roaming the aisles
            selling hot dogs.

And, Lord, the two-faced politicians
            that came out of the woodwork!
The governor of Alabama
            cried crocodile tears
            as if he would not be
            happy to have
            a White Citizen’s Council
            membership card in his wallet
            if it would get him some votes.

Somebody roused George W. from his stupor,
            told him in short easy words
            who I was,
            and shoved him out
            in front of the microphones
            to eulogize me.
He looked uncomfortable and confused.
I understand he had other things
            on his mind.

What these politicians had in mind
            was patting black folks on the head.
“See,” they say, “Mrs. Parks and Dr. King
            took care of everything.
They asked for freedom and we gave it to them
            a long, long time ago.
What more can you ask?
Now stand over there out of the way
            so we can get down to the business   
            of going after real money.”

It plain tires me out.

Little children, Black and white,
            who study me in school,
            do not think the job is over.
Your own bus seat must be won every day.
And while you are at it,
            have the driver change the route.

—Patrick Mufin

No comments:

Post a Comment