Poetry: Chella Courington – June 11, 1963

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.

 

 

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