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.