The Enactment

Poem for a Tuesday — “The Enactment” by Rita Dove

“I’m just a girl who people were mean to on a bus. . . . I could have been anybody.” — Mary Ware, nee Smith

“Can’t use no teenager, especially

no poor black trash,
no matter what her parents do

to keep up a living. Can’t use

anyone without sense enough

to bite their tongue.

It’s gotta be a woman,

someone of standing:

peferably shy, preferably married.

And she’s got to know

when the moment’s right.

Stay polite, though her shoulder’s

aching, bus driver

the same one threw her off

twelve years before.

Then all she’s got to do is

sit there, quiet, till

the next moment finds her—and only then

can she open her mouth to ask

Why do you push us around?

and his answer: I don’t know but

the law is the law and you

are under arrest.

She must sit there, and not smile

as they enter to cary her off;she must know who to call

who will know whom else to call

to bail her out . . . and only then

can she stand up and exhale

can she walk out the cell

and down the jail steps

into flashbulbs and

her employer’s white

arms—and go home,

and sit down in the seat

we have prepared for her.”

in Furious Flower, ed. Joanne V. Gabbin. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2004.


Poet and Professor Rita Dove grew up in Akron, Ohio. She was a Fulbright Scholar in Tubingen, Germany, before joining the renowned University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Her third book, Thomas and Beulah, based on her grandparents’ lives, won the Pulitzer Prize. She became the American Poet Laureate in 1993, making her both the youngest recipient of this honor and the first African American. Her poetry has a unique musicality, grounded in her own musicianship and personal belief that “language sings.” She is an avid ballroom dancer and lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, where she has taught since 1989.


By Unknown author – USIA / National Archives and Records Administration Records of the U.S. Information Agency Record Group 306, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4344206