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Civil Rights

ISSUE:  Spring 1988

Biloxi, Freedom Summer, 1964

Mississippi was steamy in July,
but who expected palm trees
to shade the huge colonials, so elegant
I could not afford to dream there?
Every day it almost rained. I slept
in railroad cars and cardboard shacks.
Black families fed me sides of pork.

The New York suburbs brought me there.
A Jewish boy with time to spare,
my guilt grew far from Mississippi.

I picketed the Dixie Country Store.
While customers turned white with spit,
for the leaflet in my hand, my hand
that quivered, paper thin,
one cop in a helmet, just one cop,
bashed my fingers, turning them to claws.

I think I liked the sight of blood.
I got my dreamy night in jail,
a decent meal, a toilet and a bed.
I curled against the cooling walls
of cinder block and listened to
the ocean break the waves to mist.

Now I’m thinking of the ruts
the dirt roads cleaned by rake,
where, that July, I kicked up dust
before I rode the bus back home,
to breathe the cooling air. The birches
and the pines. I thought my heart was wood.
In my neighborhood private cops
patroled all night to help us sleep.


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