Saturday, September 24, 2011
Thursday, September 22, 2011
Wednesday, September 21, 2011
I paused to ensure myself that she wanted to hear more. “A few weeks ago, more than 40 years later, my cousin, a teacher from from Greenville, SC, told me that she wanted to have my book made into a required text for her entire school. That book, No Gold Stars, is based on my memoir about when I taught at Sterling. I was the only white person at the school, like To Sir With Love in reverse.
“Anyway, my cousin told me about one of her students who had turned in a term paper about the Civil Rights era in Greenville. When she told her student that I had taught at Sterling, that I had integrated the school, she surprised my cousin by telling her that she knew about me. In fact, the student told my cousin that her Uncle had been one of the students I had taken to the library!”
“I want to read your book,” she told me. We were at my mother’s house where she worked as a CNA who cared for Mom on a regular basis.
“You remember those days, don’t you?” I asked.
“Yes,” she told me, “they were hard.’
It was my turn to listen. She talked about growing up as a black person in Danville, VA, how there were places she could not enter, motels and restaurants she knew that wouldn’t serve black people, were not allowed into. She started to cry. She told me that she still remembered how it felt. “At the movie theaters downtown, we had to sit upstairs. There were separate drinking fountains.”
I gave her a hug.
Although those days were over, memories of them were deep and lasting. She told me about one of the women she had cared for decades ago. “She used to refer to us caregivers as her nigger ladies.” She took a deep breath. “I knew she didn’t know better.”
I listened carefully, wanted to learn how she had distilled from those bitter recollections such clarity and kindness that made her seem an angel to me. I was sure that her caring ways had extended my mother’s life, had helped make Mom’s Parkinson’s less of a living nightmare.
“I’d like to hear more,” I told her, “if you ever want to talk about those days.”
“And I want to read your book,” she said.
Both of us agreed that it was a story that needed to be told.
B. Koplen 9/20/11
Tuesday, September 20, 2011
- Koplen 9/20/11
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
on 9/11, in the wake of the list they read at Ground Zero
All the names, thousands of them,
float from lips like promises
remembered as if spoken
with last acts or pictured in ten year old
that final embrace
that wasn't meant to be final then,
but a promise for the next
kiss or the next picture or the next
bulletin life delivers.
Imagined now, those moments
guide us, bracket ordinary promises
they mean to keep.
B. Koplen 9/12/11
Sunday, September 11, 2011
Friday, September 9, 2011
once there was a rainbow
On the tenth anniversary, I’ll travel to New York,
to Manhattan near Ground Zero.
I’ve been there before
just after dust and ashes settled
atop resting heaps the Towers were.
Quiet came to me there
at the edges of the Trade Center, its
fenced in confines,
a cemetery where bodies were buried
My nephew worked near there that day,
near enough to see death and destruction
reveal their fatal display.
He felt it. He saw it. He tasted its color.
All of it was gray.
A gray he hears when I ask him to meet me there.
B. Koplen 9/9/11
Thursday, September 8, 2011
murder made holy
No better camouflage,
its sacred attire,
armies of believers wear
wield as lances
at ignorant infidels
in unlit Jahilliyah
are no match
for well disguised
dying to get to Paradise.
B. Koplen 9/8/11
Monday, September 5, 2011
What would you say? “I want your book to be required reading at our school in Greenville.”
Of course I was flattered when my cousin, an award winning art instructor in Greenville, SC made mention of No Gold Stars. What she didn’t know was that I had spent half an hour being interviewed by a reporter from the Greenville News the day before.
My cousin was thrilled, asked whether I’d come to Greenville to discuss my book at her school.
“I’d love to,” I answered. “A few days ago I spoke to Barnes and Noble in Greensboro. They want me to have a book signing there. It’s good to know that the story of of my amazing students will finally be made public.”
Based on my memoir, No Gold Stars relates stories about my students at the school I integrated in 1968, Sterling Jr.-Sr. High, Reverend Jesse Jackson’s alma mater. One of the chapters tells about when my students and I integrated the formerly all white public library, a frightening experience for a few of my students.
“Although I haven’t seen any of my former pupils, I think of them often,” I told my cousin.
“Then you’ll love hearing this,” she said. “One of my students wrote a term paper about the Civil Rights era in Greenville. When I told her that my cousin had integrated Sterling, she surprised me. It seems that her Uncle had told her that he was one of your students who had gone to the library with you!”
“Who was it?” I asked, hoping to hear a name I might have remembered. I was thrilled and excited. Although I had thought that taking my students to the library was a profoundly important experience, I had no idea that they had felt the same. Almost too stunned to speak, I managed to ask my cousin whether she could find the name and address of my former student.
“I’d love to talk to him,” I said.
“I may be able to arrange that,” my cousin responded, “perhaps when you come to our school. But I’ll need some books.”
I told her that they were now available at Barnes and Noble’s web site or Amazon’s. “And the price has been reduced to $12.60. Kindle should be available soon.”
My cousin promised to let me know as soon as a date was set. As she spoke, I was trying to imagine what I would say to one of the stars of No Gold Stars...
B. Koplen 9/6/11