11 years old, seventh grade,
green book bag slung over right shoulder,
old-fashioned hand-cranked streetcar ride
to Eggleston Station, then
bus to Huntington Avenue, then
sleek automatic streetcar ride.
after an hour
Girls Latin School.
Two years later
GLS moved to Codman Square.
One short bus ride away.
But missed the culture
of the Fenway
and the BLS boys.
So naïve, cosseted in Jewish Dorchester.
GLS unveiled life beyond.
First black girl to be my friend:
Junior year. 1957.
Confrontation in Little Rock
jumped out of my TV
into my living room.
Girls who looked like me,
but for skin color—
dressed like me,
carried books like me.
Angry white mob
blocking their way
hurling filthy slurs at them
spitting on them.
All to bar them from the simple act
of going to school,
something I blithely took for granted.
These images etched into my heart and mind.
Diagramming sentences – ugh!
Yet here I am mincing words, parsing phrases.
“Girls! Girls! Stop this nonsense!
You think I want to be here?
You’ll all be gone soon,
off to college to get your MRS degrees.
Your ship will come in.
Mine never did.
So here I am stuck with you.
Get back to work!”
No physics class?
In the Sputnik era?
Because we’re . . . ‘just girls’?
We organized, pestered, cajoled –
finally, got it in our senior year.
We started with love—
Amo. Amas. Amat.
Swiftly on to war and conflict.
Caesar crossing the Rubicon taught us
sometimes there’s no turning back.
Alea iacta est.
Virgil warned us to be careful who we trust.
Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes
And a bit of philosophy from Cicero
prepared us to grasp the idea
that a soupcan could be art.
De gustibus non disputandum est!
60 years gone.
The threads we spun together
endure in the tapestry of my life.
Arlene Wilgoren Dunn is a lifelong number cruncher turned latter day word wrangler. Other than occasional fits of haiku, she made her first foray into writing poetry in 2018 at 76 years young. Arlene’s poems tend towards free verse in organic forms on topics that mix memoir and social commentary with empathy and humor. Arlene was introduced to poetry-making in a workshop conducted by Christopher Twymon, an art therapy associate at the retirement community where she lives. The workshop included a cohort of fellow residents and required writing a new poem every week for 15 weeks. Subsequently, she has been mentored by poets Laura Mullen and Virginia Konchan. Arlene had a distinguished career as a financial analyst in the airline industry and has been a tireless advocate and activist for racial, social, and economic justice. She holds a BA in Mathematics from Brandeis University and an MBA from the Kellogg School at Northwestern University. Arlene and her husband Larry live in Oberlin, Ohio. They are avid fans of adventurous music and support many artists and ensembles. Together, they are contributing editors for the website I CARE IF YOU LISTEN and audience-perspective bloggers for the International Contemporary Ensemble.