Our house was one block west of Woodward Avenue – the street that divided Detroit’s east and west neighborhoods. One Saturday when I was 8 years old, my mother taught me how to ride public transportation by myself. Mommy told me to keep the coins for bus fare in my shoe until I got on the bus. After that, nearly very Saturday I rode the bus to and from a modern dance class that I took on the campus of Wayne State University. Sometimes I got off the bus at Seward and walked several blocks east to visit my Grandmother, who lived in the North End.
All sorts of things happened to delight, perplex, and frighten me on these un-chaperoned trips; and, even though my mother and grandmother always inquired about my safety, if I escaped unharmed from a close encounter with something a little scary, I wouldn’t tell them – for fear that they would take away my independence. Decades later, I wrote “genesis of a street warrior” about becoming aware that there was more than the occasional dog, sassy boy, or a drunk person to look out for when I left the safety of my home.
genesis of a street warrior
i never told you about those trickster serpent adventures
on the Woodward Avenue route circa 1970….
how my buttered toast and oatmeal mornings would
as soon as I had walked one edge-of-the-city block to the bus stop
the sidewalk would crumble with me in it like a slice of fried bacon.
had my mother still been following me down the street
with her eyes she would have seen those dusty rednecks in a pickup truck
swinging out at 8 mile road shouting
“heeeeyyyy! g-i-m-m-eee s-o-m-m-e puss-eee-eee!” at me
as if i am one of those chicks busting loose on the corner of McNichols
wearing a crude lipstick and eyeliner that says FUCK.
(i’ve seen them sticking out their butts in front of the x-rated theater
that sells “GIRLS! GIRLS! GIRLS!”)
i am a girl.
in fact i am nine years old.
am i trembling or is it the roar of the
bus coming to a shrill stop on the bumper of my sneaker?
the sound of “heeeyyyy! g-i-m-m-eee s-o-m-e puss-eee!”
is still swirling around the corner and offending my ears in a cinematic haze that
knots up in my braids and makes my bangs jump backward from
my forehead so my face looks like a
ringing alarm clock when i leap onto the bus and
even though the bus driver sees me bending over to get the
bus fare out of my shoe he
jams down on the accelerator sending
me and my quarters rolling down the center aisle and
one of the black ladies who cleans houses out in the suburbs
puts her hand out to break my fall.
To learn more about artist Deborah Roberts, visit her website by clicking here.
You may also like to check out “In Conversation With Deborah Roberts by Amarie Gipson.”