Poem: A Yankee Shops for a Used Car in Alabama, 1975

By: William Ogden Haynes

yankeeshop

I was a young professor with a newly-minted doctorate
driving south from Ohio to work at Auburn University.
I pulled my old Chevy into a used car dealership
and before I could get out of the car, a salesman
was already exiting his shack in the center of the lot.

He wore a crew cut, crimson pants, a green golf shirt,
and a white vinyl belt that cinched his stomach
so tightly it lapped like rising dough over his beltline.
After shaking hands and asking where I worked,
he pointed out some of his best car deals.
Then he leaned close to me saying with a hushed tone
and conspiratorial smile, and I can guaran-damn-tee ya,
there ain’t never been no Negrahs in these here cars.

As I walked back to my car and drove off the lot,
I remembered a decade earlier watching an old black
and white television as Walter Cronkite showed flickering
footage of the march from Selma to Montgomery.
It seemed to me then, sitting in a dorm in Northern Michigan,
that Cronkite was showing film from another country far away.
And ten years later, I found that was exactly what he had done.

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