Although I have lived in California most of my life, I was born in Beaumont, Texas, and I lived in the Deep South until I was 12. It was still the Jim Crow era in the South in those days, and many white people bore their prejudice like a badge of honor. I was fortunate to have very enlightened and completely unprejudiced parents, who shielded me from most of the unpleasantness. This poem is about what happened when I got old enough to walk to the neighborhood grocery store (Weingarten's) by myself.
A nickel to spend at the store,
And permission to go by myself.
A wave of her hand at the door,
And I was off to the grocery store
With a sense of inventing myself.
I skipped every crack in the walk,
Which was paved to match up with my stride,
Turning right at the corner: a block
With two dentists, a vet and a doc,
And a gully where crawfish would hide.
Then on to the place where I shop,
(Now that I do it myself.)
To purchase a bottle of pop,
And wander the aisles till I drop,
And see what there is on the shelf.
I'm thirsty, so naturally, I
Climb up to the fountain to drink.
The steps are a little bit high,
But my throat is most awfully dry,
And I really need something to drink.
The manager's face gets quite red,
And he shouts with all of his might:
"Hey, kid, can't you read what it said?"
At the base of the fountain, I read:
"Colored," which didn't mean "White."
I ran all the way home from the store,
With a sense of original sin,
And a nickel to spend at the store,
And afraid to go back to the store,
And afraid of the evil within.
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"for 'twere absurd to think that nature in the earth bred gold, perfect in the instant;
there must be remote matter." - Ben Jonson
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