Mrs. Parks’ Bus

This is the poem I meant to share today…

During the years I spent in Jackson, I made several visits to the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. There are any number of powerful, painful and poignant stops along the tour of this museum (housed in the former Lorraine Motel, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated), but for some reason the Montgomery bus boycott exhibit often grabbed my heart in an especially personal way.

Perhaps it was because I could literally get on a bus and imagine myself in the situation faced by Rosa Parks and so many other African-American riders back in the day. Perhaps it was because, growing up, I had spent a lot of time on buses and streetcars, and I’d had the luxury of viewing a seat up front, near the driver, as a safe and accessible place.

Whatever the reason, the memory of the moment described below has stayed with me—and it continues to contribute to the admiration and respect I have for the courageous, persistent and patient women and men who participated in that era’s struggle for human rights.

Mrs. Parks’ Bus

Inside the Lorraine Motel,
a relic from a bygone era
invites me to take a journey
back in time—
or perhaps it is a replica,
merely an imitation of that now-infamous
public transit vehicle
on which an ordinary citizen
did an extraordinary thing—
asserting her humanity
and declaring it to be of a value
precisely equal
to that of the lighter-skinned passenger
who presumed to take her seat.

Sitting on a cushioned bench
at the back of the bus,
I observe as two vivacious teenage girls
bound up the steps
and take stock of their options.

They flop into seats near the front,
activating the recorded voice
of an increasingly irate driver—
who demands, in no uncertain terms,
that they move to the rear—
and it occurs to me,
as hot tears slither down my cheeks,
that progress comes
in the most mundane of arenas,
and that sometimes a year’s worth of walking
must precede one small step
toward the destination
that matters.

© 2011
Alexis Spencer-Byers