The two weeks
I spent in that small town
on assignment, I saw no blacks
except for two older women
regal in every way,
hair coifed in silver gray,
working in the Country Cafeteria.
They walked like pastors’ wives
as they worked their 20 tables.
White badges on their uniforms
announced in red their names,
their years of service.
They never said a word,
not even to each other.
They just took the cups and plates away
and wiped oil tablecloths pristine.
I took three meals a day in silence there,
the only place in town to eat.
I was the stranger in a suit and tie,
a city weed among stout farmers in old coveralls
who came to town each day to note
“no rain yet” and “the corn is dyin’.”
Before each meal instead of saying Grace,
I wanted to stand and ask these ladies
as they bowed before the clutter on their tables:
If you have worked here all these years,
and lived in this town also,
where in the Name of God,
other than at home or church,
are you free to talk or laugh or sing
or clap your hands in emancipation?