Monday, July 9, 2018

#269: "We Take the Bus" by Jacquelyn Bengfort


~This poem was previously published in Gargoyle (2016).




I take her on the city bus
The six blocks to the library
Six blocks too long for toddling legs

I take her on the city bus
So she knows what it costs to spend a dollar eighty
For an hour’s trip across the District

We take the bus.

I take her on the city bus
So she will learn things
Some people never know, see things

See the women bent over their drugstore walkers
See the men with eyes stuck shut, murmuring
See the girls, young, with babies like her

And hear the boys in the back rapping freestyle
She is nearly two and’s seen
More than I at twenty-two:

A gang of masks on Halloween punching out a neighbor,
Panhandlers asking only for a smile
Homeless people passing the peace at church

And all the sirens at night
In place of stars, sirens and
Helicopters, bellies full of hurt children

How young should one begin to know?
Will all this turn her callous
Or cause her pain?

A man on the radio the other day:
“When it comes to our children
Know the space between pain and suffering

“Pain is a teacher. Suffering
Destroys. Just hold your babies
When they are hurting.”

So we take the city bus
With grandmothers and their grocery carts
And men preaching Jehovah’s promise

We take the bus to see the city
At the slowly rolling speed of
Start-and-stop amidst strangers

My daughter and I, she and I,
We take the city bus.

*****


THE STORY BEHIND THE POEM

In late 2014, I took a class on the Beats, taught by Sarah Herrington through the Eckleburg Workshops. At that point I was writing mostly flash-length short stories and lyrical essays, many of which verged on prose poetry, but I hadn’t tried to write something I would call a poem in years.

One of Herrington’s first lessons focused on Allen Ginsberg, and the assignment was to meditate for ten minutes and then write a poem. (She included a video link to Ginsberg’s “Meditation Rock” as a useful reference.) One afternoon while my daughter was napping, I sat, cross-legged and about six months pregnant, on the rug in our living room and closed my eyes. Before ten minutes was up, I had grabbed my notebook and pen and written the first draft of this poem.

*****

ABOUT JACQUELYN BENGFORT

Jacquelyn Bengfort was born in North Dakota, educated at the U.S. Naval Academy and Oxford University, and now resides in Washington, DC. Her work has appeared in Midwestern Gothic, Gargoyle, Storm Cellar, District Lines, matchbook, CHEAP POP, The Fem, and numerous anthologies, among other places. She was a finalist for SmokeLong Quarterly's 2017 Kathy Fish Fellowship and The Iowa Review’s 2016 Jeff Sharlet Memorial Award for Veterans. Find her online at www.JaciB.com.


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