Alabama – 3 (of 10)

(Part 3 – “Tuskegee”)

The word means “warrior”. It’s on a sign
That says this is the forest of that name;
The rain’s still falling here and there, and I
Look down the long and swaying rows of trees
That I will not be entering today.
The town is just nearby: it’s famous for
The warriors that trained here long ago…

From nineteen forty through the war, they flew:
In northern Africa and Italy
They showed that fighters do what fighters do.
The strange psychology of those long days
Are hard to understand: the Jim Crow laws
And pseudo-science of the decade show
That what we fought against, we also did.
But it’s not like all that has gone away,
Or that there’s any age free of the taint.

The day is gray and dank and puddle-filled;
The lake is rippled with the falling rain,
Just past the forest, right inside the town,
There is a store with aging arcade games
And an old sign for “Diet Rite” that may
Have been her when the Airmen walked these streets.
I pull in, buy some gas, and grab a Coke,
The rain is easing up and so I go.

The University is down the way.
It’s famous for a lot things, but one’s
An ugly stain upon our history:
Experiments where men were left to die
Untreated for the illnesses they had,
Having been lied to by their government.
It’s shocking now to think (and it was then)
What people do in careless disregard
For anything like mere humanity.

I grew up in the seventies myself,
And knew this place as having given birth
To Lionel Richie and the Commodores
Whose music was a big part of our lives.
I pull into a dirt road outside town,
And queue up “Brick House” through my stereo:
A dog comes out to greet me, looking back
When he gets called – and I can hear his name –
“JER-dən”, is how we say it in these parts –
As he runs off, I pull back out to go,
Another song comes on after the last:

Sail on down the line, ain’t it funny how the time can go on
Friends say they told me so, but it doesn’t matter
It was plain to see that a small town boy like me
Just-a wasn’t your cup of tea
It was wishful thinkin’
I gave you my heart and I tried to make you happy
And you gave me nothin’ in return
You know, it ain’t so hard to say, “Would you please just go away,” yeah, yeah
I’ve thrown away the blues, I’m tired of bein’ used
I want everyone to know I’m lookin’ for a good time, good time

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