Norwegian Freighter, June 1967
Now, girls, the captain is boss.
Do whatever he says.
That’s my college roomie’s dad
whose job is why we’re about to sail
across the Atlantic on this pulp boat.
The only passengers, two illegals.
Captain Gjovag is jolly like my Uncle Eric
chipmunk cheeks, Woody Woodpecker hair.
We banter like cartoon characters
until one day at sea
he tries to kiss me.
Surely this is not what
Anne’s Dad had in mind.
I duck, gulp, and gently say
Canadian girls do not kiss married men—
not that I wanted to kiss him if he were single.
Canadian kindness worked.
Our games of three-handed bridge carried on
as though no breach had happened.
When we landed the captain would not accept
our shilling-a-day pay for fabulous food.
He said, You girls need your money for travel.
International incident averted.
Summer Solstice sun almost blinds me on this freighter deck
slathered in Johnson’s Baby Oil, I don sunglasses to read.
A seaman, short and stocky, coils rope across the deck.
He startles me with, Don Quixote!
Yes, a good read, I say, now seeing him as Sancho Panza.
He grins and gestures excitedly as my ear tunes in to his accent.
I pick out Rocinante, Dulcinea, and Ferdinand.
Suddenly I clue in that his strong accent is Spanish, of which I know not a word.
Yet we’ve connected, each in our own language.
Stuttgart, July 7,1967
My friend’s husband, Wolfgang, guides us
in this city of his birth
shows us the usual sights
then points to craters in the concrete of an underpass—
Mother held our hands as we ran here
for shelter from the bombs—
I’ll never forget.
My gasp of horror
picturing Wolf and his sister cowering here.
Then it hits me—those bombs were “ours”.
“We” were trying to kill Wolfgang and his family.
Fifty years later I reread my diary
find no mention of this at all
only the touristy sites Wolfgang showed us—
Did I already know I’d never forget?
Newark, August 19, 1967
The pulp boat takes fourteen days from Northern England
to Newark, right after the race riots.
We are driven through smashed city streets—
store windows boarded up
belligerent faces glare at us.
I’m dropped at the local train station
the only White on the whole platform.
Segregation ended years ago, didn’t it?
Wish I weren’t in a white dress.
Never felt so conspicuous.
I sidle up to an elderly couple with curly grey hair
nervously strike up a conversation, relieved
they tolerate my prattle.
On the train now, the last empty seat is beside me.
A young mother points her son to it.
He refuses to look at me or speak when I try to chat.
This lesson in how it feels to be a minority
lasts longer than any textbook teachings.
Image header by Travel Junction
Leave a Comment