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Maxine Scates: Wrong Place, Wrong Time

My friend’s sons are driving across the country

and I keep thinking, as my friend must think every

hour of every day, how they might come to the town

where darkness has fallen and their license

plate is unlit, or they’re driving two miles over

the speed limit, or they’re doing nothing but being

themselves when the streetlight shines on

their passing car and the cop on the side street

pulls out with his red light flashing behind them

because they are not supposed to be there

in that town where sundown laws

though long since officially banished still exist

etched deep in consciousness, still say her sons

should not be where they have a right to be,

which causes me to wonder if my grandfather,

who was a cop, ever used his billy club, or the butt

of his thirty-eight upside the head of someone

who he thought was in the wrong place at the wrong

time on the streets of downtown L.A. where

he patrolled in the teens, twenties and thirties

of the last century. But how would I know?

Maybe he never acted on the epithets, which, good

liberal that I am, I have learned not to say

and would like to forget I ever heard though

once you’ve heard those words over and over,

you can’t help but know they’re still there,

a festering wound. So, while it is perhaps unkind

to speak of the dead, I do believe that chances are

if he was a man of his words, a man with a gun

or a billy club in his belt, he would have used it

on someone who looked different than him, my dear

Irish grandfather, my less than dear father,

who I’m happy to say had no gun as he sat

on his porch watching John, who works as a custodian

down the block at the school I go to every weekday,

drive by on a Saturday and wave at my brother

who is mowing the lawn. John, who unlocks the gate

of the school playground after hours so my brother

can shoot baskets, drives by, waves and my father snarls

What’s that N–—- bastard doing driving down

my street and how he’d better get the hell off it

because that was the way it was then, all of us poor,

them on one side of the freeway, us on the other–

though now in the town where I live in the Northwest

it is just mostly white. The town where my friend

and her husband once lived, where her husband

because he was tall and driving and who he is

was pulled over too. And now, I can’t help but recall

how last year when I asked my friend if she’d seen

Fruitvale Station, the film about the young man

who was shot and killed by a Bart Station cop

who said he thought he was shooting his victim

with a taser, my friend answered it was a little too close

to home because her sons often rode that train. And

I said, “Oh,” thinking but painful as it is, it was a really

good movie she ought to see when for her

it was no movie–and for me it was two hours

on a Saturday afternoon, and then, when the movie

was over, I walked out into the early dusk feeling sad–

as if that would be enough to make what had happened

and keeps happening just go away.



copyright 2014 by Maxine Scates

Included here by permission of the author


Maxine Scates in the author of three books of poetry, most recently Undone (New Issues 2011), and also co-editor, with David Trinidad, of Holding Our Own: The Selected Poems of Ann Stanford. She lives in Eugene, Oregon.

2 comments on “Maxine Scates: Wrong Place, Wrong Time

  1. Pingback: Maxine Scates: Wrong Place, Wrong Time « midnighttheblues

  2. midnighttheblues
    December 11, 2014

    Yes. I looked at an online report of two University of Oregon basketball players, both African American, who presented the “hands up” gesture during the national anthem before a game. The anger & vitriol in some of the online responses only emphasized the urgency of their message. Thanks, Maxine.


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This entry was posted on December 11, 2014 by in Poetry and tagged , , , .

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