The Brown Derby

Racial segregation was a fact of life in rural Pennsylvania where I spent my childhood. There was a road we didn't go down where all the black people lived. As a result of my trip back to Pennsylvania I am writing my recollections of this for the first time. First came "Monday Miss Schreckengost Reads Us Little Black Sambo," a major poem that will be in my next book. I am working on a piece about an elderly woman who froze to death and the attitude of neighbors who brushed it off because the black neighbor was "too proud" to ask for help. The poem below is just a small recollection of the road itself, one of a number of coal shantytowns that followed the creek.

Road we don’t go down
     weed trees and roadside flowers
shack houses     no toilets
     a collapsed barn
a shingled hall     the Negroes’ nightclub
its paint-peeled sign
crowded Saturday
     cars and shouting
sometimes a gunshot     a body
     would float in the creek behind,
     tangled with discarded shoes,
     coal miners’ helmets,
     belts and suspenders
     old tires     turtles and crayfish
fished out     dragged to the county morgue
     John Doe’d till someone’s son
     was reported missing
Who lives there?     What do they do
on that road we don’t go down?
How far does it go?     How many live down there?
Why don’t we ever see them
in the school, the bank, the post office?
It’s not even on the street map,
     the nameless lane
          of The Brown Derby.


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