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Making History

By Marilyn Nelson

Blue and White Orlon Snowflake Sweater, Blue Snowpants, Red Galoshes
          -- Smoky Hill AFB, Kansas, 1955


Somebody took a picture of a class
standing in line to get polio shots,
and published it in the Weekly Reader.
We stood like that today. And it did hurt.
Mrs. Liebel said we were Making History,
but all I did was sqwunch up my eyes and wince.
Making History takes more than standing in line
believing little white lies about pain.
Mama says First Negroes are History:
First Negro Telephone Operator,
First Negro Opera Singer At The Met,
First Negro Pilots, First Supreme Court Judge.
That lady in Montgomery just became a First
by sqwunching up her eyes and sitting there.

Added: Thursday, July 3, 2014  /  From Beloit Poetry Journal Spring 2012 - Split This Rock Edition. Used with permission.
Marilyn Nelson

Marilyn Nelson is the author or translator of 12 books and three chapbooks. She is a winner of the Annisfield-Wolf Award and the Poets' Prize, and most recently, the Poetry Society of America's Frost Medal, among others. Her honors include two NEA fellowships, a Fulbright Teaching Fellowship, three honorary doctorates, and a fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation. Nelson is a professor emerita of English at the University of Connecticut; founder and was founder/director of Soul Mountain Retreat, a small writers' colony; and the former Poet Laureate of Connecticut.

Other poems by this author