Poetry Porch: Poetry


White Gate Blues
by Dolores Hayden

Bessie Coleman, first African American
to earn a pilot’s license, 1921

Cotton field girl has one short life to lose,
laundry girl has one short life to lose,
I got Waxahachie, Texas, white gate blues.

I sort a heap of clothes and soap them clean,
rinse out those pounds of clothes and wring them clean,
I’m tenth of thirteen children, yes, thirteen.

Study some math at Colored Normal U.,
a bit of math at Colored Normal U.
Run out of cash. Leave school. Try something new.

A railroad ticket and I’m northern bound,
a ticket to Chicago, city bound,
hunting a way to turn my days around.

Give me lessons, I’ll wing across the sky,
flying lessons, I’ll cruise right through the sky,
God made no segregated space on high.

American instructors: no can do.
Bessie, the pilots tell me, no can do.
Defender asks, Bess Coleman, parlez-vous?

And now New York and Coronado Bay,
Chicago, Kansas City, and LA—
and even Waxahachie—want to pay

to see me climb, and spin, and launch a loop,
to watch me roar above their heads and loop,
to see me grin a grin and whoop a whoop,

though I won’t fly a Texas show unless,
no, I won’t fly a hometown show unless
White-Only signs come down before Queen Bess.

Copyright © 2017 by Dolores Hayden.