bus 16


Bus 16

Our father taught us that people who start fires
aren’t the ones to put them out. Burning trash
was illegal, but a gully-load of tires had been lit.
When no one cares to stop it, heat can flame
for years in the chambers underground. Through
the smoke of burning rubber, we rode
a school bus along the Missouri River shore,
past the county dump to our squatty white house
in the down-spray of the falls. Two bedrooms
for eight of us, with the baby’s crib in the hall.
The oldest boys had a bedroom town kids
called a porch. These kids in town were lucky,
we thought, to ride bikes to corner candy stores.
Nickels in their pockets. Smooth pavement
for the games they played while the five of us
spent hours on the country bus with thirty-three
Hill 57 Indians. We stood out with our Irish freckles
and front porch house against their darker skin and homes
built from scraps mined from the coulees
around the dump. We learned who could be
friends, who would never be. Mary Little Cross
lived in a shack with a two inch gap
around the front door. Dark winter mornings
kerosene light leaked out. She stayed warm
by wearing her three dresses while she slept.
She told me she switched them so it seemed
as though she changed her clothes. We’d smooth
our skirts and huddle in the fourth row of our bus.
Knees pressed together, the paper keyboard
we had made spread across our laps. I showed her
how to read music from a book I brought from home.
Mary taught me how to chant for rain.
Photo by William O’Keefe (quite a few miles up river from the scene of this poem)

About redmitten

author of Cracking Geodes Open, Making Good Use of August, and The Peppermint Bottle. poetry editor for IthacaLit. website: https://toomuchaugust.wordpress.com

10 responses to “bus 16

  1. csbaehr

    Ooooh. I could see all of it.

  2. This piece cuts so clean. Yes, I can also see all of it and will always think of your winters in terms of Mary Little Cross’ three dresses and what you taught each other on the bus. xo

    • redmitten

      marylinn- i think i learned more from her than she did from me. the hill 57 indians are still working at being recognized by our government. i try to keep up on the news, cheering them on. xos

  3. As a town kid, I envied those who got to ride the bus away from town with its closed-in feeling and out into quiet and fragrant country. I imagined friendships born on those rides that would be unbreakable. And turns out I was right. A beautiful piece. Thank you, Sherry.

    • redmitten

      andrea- those long bus rides (and the long walks along the river after getting home) maybe had quite a bit to do with shaping my siblings and me. thanks for the kind words.

  4. All kinds of wonderful here.

  5. Rose Hunter

    Yes, what Kathleen said. So rich. And such lovely movement. Todo! 🙂

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