On the bus with Rosa Parks Poems

Rita Dove

Book - 1999

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Location Call Number   Status
2nd Floor 811.54/Dove Checked In
New York : Norton 1999.
Main Author
Rita Dove (-)
Physical Description
95 p.
  • Cameos
  • July, 1925
  • Night
  • Birth
  • Lake Erie Skyline, 1930
  • Depression Years
  • Homework
  • Graduation, Grammar School
  • Painting the Town
  • Easter Sunday, 1940
  • Nightwatch. The Son
  • Freedom: Bird's-Eye View
  • Singsong
  • I Cut My Finger Once on Purpose
  • Parlor
  • The First Book
  • Maple Valley Branch Library, 1967
  • Freedom: Bird's-Eye View
  • Testimonial
  • Dawn Revisited
  • Black on a Saturday Night
  • My Mother Enters the Work Force
  • Black on a Saturday Night
  • The Musician Talks about "Process"
  • Sunday
  • The Camel Comes to Us from the Barbarians
  • The Venus of Willendorf
  • Incarnation in Phoenix
  • Revenant
  • Best Western Motor Lodge, AAA Approved
  • Revenant
  • On Veronica
  • There Came a Soul
  • The Peach Orchard
  • Against Repose
  • Against Self-Pity
  • Gotterdammerung
  • Ghost Walk
  • Lady Freedom Among Us
  • For Sophie, Who'll Be in First Grade in the Year 2000
  • On the Bus with Rosa Parks
  • Sit Back, Relax
  • "The situation is intolerable"
  • Freedom Ride
  • Climbing In
  • Claudette Colvin Goes to Work
  • The Enactment
  • Rosa
  • QE2. Transatlantic Crossing. Third Day
  • In the Lobby of the Warner Theatre, Washington, D.C.
  • The Pond, Porch-View: Six P.M., Early Spring
  • Notes
  • Acknowledgments
Review by Booklist Review

Ai's name is as terse as an element in the periodic table, and a symbol for a complex amalgam that is part African American, Japanese (Ai means love in that language), Choctaw, and Dutch, but this braided heritage rarely surfaces in her famously jolting poems. Ai prefers to write "fictions," dramatic, sometimes surreal monologues delivered by invented characters or headline icons. This form dominates her new work as well as the selections from her first four books, Cruelty, Killing Floor, Sin, and Fate. In the past, Ai has given voice to such figures as Jimmy Hoffa, J. Edgar Hoover, and Lenny Bruce. In her new poems, she scours today's news and writes about rapists, the paparazzi, Jon-Benet Ramsey, and a president embroiled in a sex scandal. Whatever one may think of Ai's poetics, her bold and searing performances constitute a key facet in the literature of cultural dissection. Dove is a far more lyric poet, and her poems are to be savored. She, too, is a storyteller, but for her the real action is on the inside, and her psychological portraits of mothers, fathers, and children are gently illuminating and arrestingly beautiful. In "Cameos," she traces the emotional fissures that run beneath the modest facade of a blue-collar family. The theme of self-betterment and a passion for learning runs through many poems, particularly those in a sequence titled "Freedom: A Bird's Eye View." Music animates Dove's supple lines as she praises Rosa Parks and all the unnamed heroines and heroes who calmly and firmly say no to what can and must be changed, and yes to what cannot. Sanchez, like Ai, has always been an outspoken and unflinching poet, innovative in her improvisations on meter and form. She moves from harmless-looking, short-lined stanzas that pack a wallop to jazzy prose-poems, giving shape and sound to every shade of mood, from blue to sensual, violent to celebratory. More than three decades of her work appear in this new retrospective volume, including concise early works from I've Been a Woman to prosy offerings from Homegirls and Handgrenades, and on up through four subsequent volumes, ending finally with four new poems. --Donna Seaman

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Dove's brillianceÄas with all great writersÄis inextricable from her formal gifts: her poems effortlessly suggest grand narratives and American myths, yet ground themselves tersely in localities, characters, practicalities and particulars. This seventh collection leads off with a Dove specialty, the historical sequence: her "Cameos" lend broad, social relevance to an intermittently abandoned Depression-era wife and her family. As in Alice Munro's fiction, slight notations of near-undetectable actions are keys to deep emotional transformation: "Now she just/ enjoys, and excess/ hardens on her like/ a shell./ She sheens." In subsequent poems such as "Testimonial" and "Maple Valley Branch Library, 1967," Dove revisits precocious origins ("I was pirouette and flourish,/ I was filigree and flame") and traces, with her characteristically strong enjambments, an emerging sexuality: "how her body felt/ tender and fierce, all at once." And as with the Pulitzer Prize-winning sonnets of Thomas and Beulah (no sonnets this time out), the reader follows the poet's imagined rituals and movementsÄ"each night the bed creaking/ cast onto the waves/ each dawn rose flaunting/ their loose tongues of flame"Äonly to come squarely back to earth in the title section: "Not even my own grandmother would pity me;/ instead she'd suck her teeth at the sorry sight/ of some Negro actually looking for misery.// Well. I'd go home if I knew where to get off." Readers will find that this is the place. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review

The women in Dove's poems bear up almost miraculously under their extraordinary burdens: the pregnant Lucille, prone under the tomato vines, trying to pluck a green tomato and will her man home; Dove's mother, a seamstress who takes in extra piecework at night to pay for "business" (secretarial) school by day; and Rosa Parks, who did what she had to on the bus in 1955 and who, from that point on, bore the burden of public life for the public good. The stories in these poems make them interesting, but what makes them sporadically great is Dove's ability to get beyond "an ache I never had"Äher African American heritageÄto the ache of the moment: "the treadle machine...traveling the lit path of the needle." From cruise ship to camel to the Danube, this former Poet Laureate takes on anything, and even if there is a bit too much of the hopeful solace of the "occasional poem," Dove's sizable audience will relish the delicious combination of a young girl, a dry wit, and a mature soul. For all poetry collections.ÄEllen Kaufman, Dewey Ballantine Law Lib., New York (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

Univ. of Virginia professor, Pulitzer winner, and former Poet Laureate, Dove has reaped great rewards for verse, such as this seventh collection, which is really quite modest in design and accomplishment. Always genial and accessible, Dove's economical, never-erring poems have the same homey charms and family wisdom of Zora Neale Hurston's fiction: 'Cameos' is a verse collage that bears 'witness' to a time and place: the '20s and '30s in Ohio, where a boy grows up among a lot of doting sisters, never bonds with his 'clowning' father, and prefers science to music. There's more than a touch of inspiration and uplift (but no Maya Angelou smarminess) in Dove's affirmative poems: two celebrate her young self as a reader of 'the stuff we humans are made of.' 'Dawn Revisited' marvels at the promise of a new day and a second chance. The poet is uncomfortable with repose ('Against Repose') and refuses to give in to self-pity in front of her daughter ('Against Self-Pity'). She's proud of her dignified mother, working as a seamstress to finance business school; and admires the old lady in 'G”tterdammerung,' who, despite aches and pains, will not give up on adventure, travel, and her own sexuality. A public poet as well, Dove pays homage to the Capitol building ('Lady Freedom Among Us') and, in the title sequence, with indirection and context, narrates the saga of Rosa Parks and a few less-famous bus-riding women in the Jim Crow South for whom, as Dove so eloquently puts it, 'Doing nothing was the doing.' Dove extols the 'life force' in chants clear and democratic.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Excerpt Cameos 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. Night Joe ain't studying nobody. He laughs his own sweet bourbon banner, he makes it to work on time. Late night, Joe retreats through the straw-link-and-bauble curtain and up to bed. Joe sleeps. Snores gently as a child after a day of marbles. Joe 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.Now to do it without him is the problem. To walk into a day and quietly absorb. Joe takes after Mama. Joe's Mr. Magoo. Joe 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. Ah, Lucille. 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. Joe 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. Birth (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.          Sisters, 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 Pearl 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 nonchalance 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 doesn't care. 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. Pearl giggles: Pretty as a freshly painted barn.She tugs a wrinkle down. Since she's discovered men would rather drown than nibble, she does just fine. 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.Lucille 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.) Freedom: Bird's-Eye View Singsong 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 yes ù 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. (Continues...) Copyright © 1999 Rita Dove. All rights reserved.