June 11, 1963
One clerk and one state trooper
sat in the DMV office
the day I turned sixteen. You’ll
have to be quick, he said. My
body shaking, hands trembling.
One wrong move meant
six more months with
a learner’s permit, someone
twenty-one always next to me.
I slipped into Dad’s black bucket
seat, my dress sticking to
my legs. The trooper slammed
his door and said drive, clipboard
in his lap. I should have gone
earlier when the sun wasn’t
glaring. My eyes already tearing
from his smoke.
One stop then a left to
the traffic light going red.
We sat in silence
while hot air shimmied.
98 degrees in mid June was sultry
even for Alabama.
Then one right turn and two
lefts. Miss, time to parallel park.
If I failed, it would be on West Main
as I put my foot on the brake and
shifted into rear, sliding past the
white car so close he squeaked,
dropping his pencil. My back wheels
turned to the curb, I was almost home.
Nothing could stop me now.
Not him, not the pencil, not the stultifying
heat. A slick new license stamped
by the state and freeing
me to go wherever I wanted.
Three hours away and three years older,
another girl sweated, flanked by state
troopers. Not one but hundreds, not
a clipboard but guns and nightsticks.
Her hands clammy, body shaking
in a white cotton dress
and white heels as she walked
head up through hecklers and bullies
to Foster Auditorium.
What she wanted was so much
greater than my piece of paper.
She wanted to enroll in summer school
like other girls and boys. Wanted to
analyze numbers, hear what their
Professors passed down.
But the governor stood against
her learning with them.
Lifted his hands to shut her out.
The sun was behind her.
She didn’t flinch when he said go back.
She’d come too far.
Nothing could stop her. Not him,
not billy clubs, not graveled shouts.
Light fell at her feet
as she waited to be escorted
across the threshold.