On the Bus with Rosa Parks

On the Bus with Rosa Parks

by Rita Dove

Paperback(New Edition)

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A dazzling new collection by the former Poet Laureate of the United States.

In these brilliant poems, Rita Dove treats us to a panoply of human endeavor, shot through with the electrifying jazz of her lyric elegance. From the opening sequence, "Cameos", to the civil rights struggle of the final sequence, she explores the intersection of individual fate and history.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780393320268
Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 04/28/2000
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 96
Sales rank: 440,747
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.40(d)
Lexile: 1030L (what's this?)

About the Author

Rita Dove, Pulitzer Prize winner and former U S Poet Laureate, is the only poet honored with both the National Humanities Medal and the National Medal of Arts. A professor of creative writing at the University of Virginia, she lives in Charlottesville.

Read an Excerpt



July, 1925

Lucille among the flamingos
is pregnant; is pained
because she cannot stoop to pluck
the plumpest green tomato
deep on the crusted vine.
Lucille considers
the flamingos, guarding in plastic cheer
the birdbath, parched
and therefore
deserted. In her womb
a dull--no, a husky ache.

If she picks it, Joe will come home
for breakfast tomorrow.
She will slice and dip it
in egg and cornmeal and fry
the tart and poison out.
Sobered by the aroma, he'll show
for sure, and sit down
without a mumbling word.
Inconsiderate, then,

the vine that languishes
so!, and the bath sighing for water
while the diffident flamingos arrange
their torchsong tutus.
She alone
is the blues. Pain drives her blank.
Lucille thinks: I can't
even see my own feet.

Lucille lies down
between tomatoes
and the pole beans: heavenly shade.
From here everything looks
reptilian. The tomato plops
in her outstretched palm. Now
he'll come,
she thinks,
and it will be a son.
The birdbath hushes
behind a cloud
of canebreak and blossoming flame.


Joe ain't studying nobody.
He laughs his own sweet bourbon banner,
he makes it to work on time.
Late night, Joe retreats through
thestraw-link-and-bauble curtain
and up to bed. Joe sleeps. Snores
gently as a child after a day of marbles.

knows somewhere
he had a father
who would have told him
how to act. Mama,
stout as a yellow turnip,
loved to bewail her wild good luck:
Blackfoot Injun, tall with
hair like a whip.
to do it
without him
is the problem. To walk into a day
and quietly absorb.
Joe takes after Mama.
Joe's Mr. Magoo.
thinks, half
dreaming, if he ever finds
a place where he can think,
he'd stop clowning
and drinking and then that wife
of his would quit
sending prayers through the chimney.

Those eyes, bright and bitter
as cherry bark, those
coltish shins, those thunderous hips!
No wonder he couldn't leave
her be, no wonder whenever she began to show
he packed a fifth and split.

in funk and sorrow. Joe
in parkbench celibacy, in apostolic
factory rote, in guilt (the brief
astonishment of memory), in grief when
guilt turns monotonous.

He always knows when to go on home.


(So there you are at lastù
a pip, a button in the grass.
The world's begun
without you.

And no reception but
accumulated time.
Your face hidden but your name
shuddering on air!)

Lake Erie Skyline, 1930

He lunges, waits, then strikes again.
I'll make them sweat, he thinks
and does a spider dance
as the fireflies shamble past.

The sky dims slowly; the sun
prefers to do its setting
on the other side of town.
This deeper blue smells
soft. The patterns in it
rearrangeùhe cups

another fly. (He likes to
shake them dizzy
in his hands, like dice, then
throw them out for luck.
They blink on helplessly
then stagger from the sidewalk
up and gone.)

Sometimes the night arrives
with liquor on its breath,
twice-rinsed and chemical.
Or hopped up, sparking
a nervous shimmy. Or
dangerously still, like his mother
standing next to the stove,
a Bible verse rousing her pursed lips.

He knows what gin is made fromù
berries blue. He knows
that Jesus Saves. (His father
calls it Bitches' Tea.)

And sistersùso many, their
names fantastic, myriad
as the points of a chandelier:
Corinna, Violet, Mary, Fay,
Suzanna, Kit, and Pearl. Each evening
when they came to check
his bed, he held his breath, and still
he smelled the camphor
and hair pomade. Saw
foreheads sleek, spitcurl
embellishing a cheek, lips
soft and lashes spiked
with vaseline. He waited
to be blessed.
         They were
Holy Vessels, Mother said:
each had to wait
her Turn. And he, somehow,
was part of the waiting, he was
the chain. He was, somehow,
his father.

The latest victim won't
get upùjust lies there
in the middle of the walk
illuminating the earth
regular as breath.
He stomps and grinds
his anger in. Pulls
his foot away and yellow
streaks beneath the soleù
eggyolk flame, lurid
smear of sin.

laughing, take his shoes away
and bring them scraped
and ordinary
back. Idiots,
he thinks. No wonder
there's so many of them.

But he can't sleep.
All night beneath his bed,
the sun is out.

Depression Years

can't stop eating;
she wants to live!
Those professors
have it all backwards:
after fat came merriment,
simply because she was afraid to
face the world, its lukewarm
that generationwise had set
her people in a stupor of
religion and
gambling debts. (Sure, her
mother was an angel
but her daddy was
her man.)

Pearl laughs
a wet red laugh.
Pearl oozes
everywhere. When she was
young, she licked the walls free of chalk; she
ate dust for the minerals.
Now she just
enjoys, and excess
hardens on her like
a shell.
She sheens.

But oh, what
tiny feet! She tipples
down the stairs. She cracks a chair.
The largest baby shoe
is neat. Pearl laughs
when Papa jokes: Why don't
you grow yourself some feet?

Her mother calls them
devil's hooves.
Her brother
He has
A Brain; he doesn't notice.
She gives him of her own
ham hock, plies him with
sweetened yams. Unravels
ratted sweaters, reworks them
into socks. In the lean years
lines his shoes
with newspaper. (Main
thing is, you don't
miss school.)

She tells him
it's the latest style.
He never laughs.
He reads. He
shuts her out.
Pearl thinks
she'll never marry--
though she'd
like to have
a child.

Painting the Town

The mirror
in the hall is red.
giggles: Pretty
as a freshly painted
She tugs
a wrinkle down.
Since she's discovered
men would rather drown
than nibble,
she does just

She'd like to show
her brother
what it is like to crawl
up the curved walls
of the earth, or
to be that earth--but
he has other plans.
Which is alright. Which is
As It Should Be.
Let the boy reach manhood
anyway he can.

Easter Sunday, 1940

A purity
in sacrifice, a blessedness
in shame.
in full regalia, clustered
violets and crucifix.
She shoos
a hornet
back to Purgatory,
rounds the corner, finds
her son in shirtsleeves staring
from the porch into the yard
as if it were the sea.

And suddenly
she doesn't care.
(Joe, after all, came home.)
She feels as if
she's on her back
again, and all around her
blushing thicket.

Nightwatch. The Son.

(Aggressively adult,
they keep their
lives, to which
I am a witness.

At the other end
I orbit, pinpricked
light. I watch.
I float and grieve.)

Bird's-Eye View


When I was young, the moon spoke in riddles
and the stars rhymed. I was a new toy
waiting for my owner to pick me up.

When I was young, I ran the day to its knees.
There were trees to swing on, crickets for capture.

I was narrowly sweet, infinitely cruel,
tongued in honey and coddled in milk,
sunburned and silvery and scabbed like a colt.

And the world was already old.
And I was older than I am today.

I Cut My Finger Once on Purpose

I'm no baby. There's no grizzly man
wheezing in the back of the closet.
When I was the only one,
they asked me if I wanted a night-light
and I said yesù
but then came the shadows.

I know they make the noises at night.

My toy monkey Giselle, I put her
in a red dress they said was mine
onceùbut if it was mine, why did they yell
when Giselle clambered up the porch maple
and tore it? Why would Mother say
When you grow up, I hope you have
a daughter just like you

if it weren't true, that I have a daughter
hidden in the closetùsomeone
they were ashamed of and locked away
when I was too small to cry.

I watch them all the time now:
Mother burned herself at the stove
without wincing. Father
smashed a thumb in the Ford,
then stuck it in his mouth for show.
They bought my brother a just-for-boys
train, so I grabbed the caboose
and crowned himùbut he toppled
from his rocker without a bleat;
he didn't even bleed.

That's when I knew they were
robots. But I'm no idiot:
I eat everything they give me,
I let them put my monkey away.
When I'm big enough
I'll go in, past the boa
and the ginger fox biting its tail
to where my girl lies, waiting ...
and we'll stay there, quiet,
until daylight finds us.


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