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Wednesday, February 13, 2008


by Sondra Zeidenstein

I was twenty-five, in Brooklyn, with two toddlers,
when I watched nine black children in their Sunday best
stopped by the Little Rock National Guard,
bayonets drawn, white women hooting,
their faces twisted with hatred, at least one of them
spitting on the girl whose skirt was prettily puffed out by petticoats.
The black of the woman’s open mouth, her wild eyes.

And here I am fifty years later, my eyes fixed on Gwen Ifill
who is near fifty, on a segment of the News Hour
with the Little Rock Nine. The fiftieth anniversary—
1957, ancient history—of their having “integrated”
the high school in Little Rock which had never had
a black student in its halls. Her guests nearing seventy,
her elders, Gwen, asks them in a reverent voice

how they are feeling today. Gwen’s face is without makeup
she wears on her own show, older, no polish to her cheeks,
her hair old-fashioned southern, her Blackness on display.
I knew that woman, said the one who’d worn the wide skirt,
her prettiest clothes. I remember the shock, she says.
I couldn’t believe that woman was spitting at me.
The whole year was like that.

There will be blood in the streets--we see the clip,
Governor Faubus of Arkansas--if these children try to enter.
We see Eisenhower’s bald head lean toward the camera,
signing the children an escort into and out of the building.
When I left school each day I didn’t know where I’d get
the courage to go back
. We, the remnant of those who watched,
remember the everyday looking woman who spit at the little girl

her brightly polished shoes, wide skirt, tight belt, books
under her arm. It’s so hard to come together this way, it
brings back the emotions, she said, who had the strength
to keep getting up each morning to be humiliated, scared,
alone--doing this, how could she know? for Gwen someday,
who would do it someday for the Rutgers five, doing it even
for me sitting against an icepack pressed to my upper spine

for the nerve pain that’s almost crippling me these days,
restoring me, in whose old brain 1957 is inscribed, with hope.

Sondra Zeidenstein's poems have been published in magazines, journals and anthologies, and in a chapbook collection entitled Late Afternoon Woman. A Detail in that Story is her first book, Resistance is her second. She is editor of several anthologies including A Wider Giving: Women Writing after a Long Silence and Family Reunion: Poems about Parenting Grown Children, and publisher of
Chicory Blue Press, a small literary press, now twenty years old, that focuses on writing by older women.