NoŽl SweeneyFrom

Animal Rights Poetry By NoŽl Sweeney

A Creed of Claudette Colvin

Fired by her baptism
She was caught between
Fighting the face of racism
Or a climb-down surrender
That could bend and break her
On a cold day in March 1955
Her spirit truly came alive
She would not take a dive
Claudette Colvin at just 15
She was born with a rebel mind
She was no white manís slave
She was no black manís pet
She was 100% her own girl
The world would find out yet

Sitting with three friends on the bus
The white driver told them to move
Without causing any kind of fuss
Move to the back as is your place
Any black face in the white space
Struck a cuss in the driverís craw
To see any black and any squaw
All in all it was an instant williwaw
Claudette knew it was against the law

Claudette was caught in a legal trap
Her mind was a mixed-up moral map
Saying Ďsorryí and then forced to move
What could or would it serve or prove
She might move an Uncle Tom in town
Or should she stay standing up
Fighting for her rights by sitting down
A time when her life ran out of rhyme
Colvin was no puppet or clown
Colvinís concern did not linger
Staring at the driverís pointed finger
She was ready to sing her own song
She knew in her heart what was right
She knew in her soul he was wrong
Her friend A moved to the back
Her friend B feared arrest too
Holding their heads low slunk away
C feared arrest too if she stayed
She did not intend to offend
So she too scurried to the back
Where the seats were reserved
For people deemed to be inferior
Unlike whites born to be superior
Unlike blacks as a passing plasma
For people deemed black anathema
All in all no different than animals
Her friends sat behind the white folks
While her ire was poked and stoked
Claudette sat on the bus in the front
In downtown Montgomery Alabama
The lesson learned at her motherís knee
Circled her mind knowing she was free
Told by her Mama every day in every way
ĎListen, you may be born with black skin
But Honey youíre as good as all of them
No better, but you sure ainít no worse
Let me tell you being black ainít a curseí

Colvin steeled herself and sat tight
As always she was ready for a fight
Knowing her old Mama was right
She stared dead-eyed at the driver
Her flint face reflecting lifeís race
Straight into his white glinting face
She stayed sitting tight in her space
She said so others heard her case
ĎI paid for a seat I ainít going to go
To the back where blacks are on show
Youíd better know I am not your negroí

Claudette knew if she moved to the back
It would be an act she would forever regret
Claudette was no white or black manís pet

On one shoulder she had Harriet Tubman
On the other she had Sojourner Truth
On the thundering Underground Railroad
She saw each ghost of justice as an omen
Claiming to the world ĎAinít I a Womaní

Colvin stayed in her seat
Colvin planted her feet
Until without seeking favour or fuss
She was dragged right off the bus
Two burly cops and almost concussed
Handcuffed and taken to the jailhouse
Locked in a cell so the past criminals
Left her overcome by the stale smell
Deprived even of a mattress and sleep
Her head started to swim and swell
She thought about Ďheaven and hellí
To teach her a lesson to remember
She was denied a blanket and food
She was a target for pointed insults
Crass and crude and racist and rude
Practised insults blunt and sharp
Revolved inside her head
Lewd and intended to intrude
Yet for her their words did not count
Their swaggering mood and attitude
Sweaty jailers with nothing to prove
Locked inside their own false pride
Born of a congenital societal groove
All her companions moved giddy-up
Now was not the time to fit or quit
She stayed sitting as the face of injustice
Supped her freedom from a broken cup
Thrown off and under their bus
A stance that made her dance
Yet for her it was ever thus
So every black voice could sing
Flying with Colvinís freedom wing

The driver saw her as one
Only fit to sit at the back
Or on the stained floor
So the smell of a cell
Was similar to an abattoir
They sought to destroy her mind
Yet Claudette had such insight
She saw truth and law were blind
She knew she was not a criminal
She knew if you were born black
It was an everyday gimcrack
Or worse were born an animal
Stalked as if you were a humpback
Open prejudice was never subliminal
When you were caught in the trammel

The cops and jailers failed in the end
Well-deserved in the way life wends
In 2021 Colvinís conviction was quashed
Her stance on injustice now runs free
It is time to rejoice in her choice
Declared innocent at the age of 88
Her voice reverberates in world history
Her voice unlocked what it is to be free
When the good and bad flashes
When the right and wrong clashes
Each one has to decide
Which side you are on
Whether you are weak or strong
Are you one more silent coward
Yellow-belly colour of custard
Or will you sing with force
Until you are almost hoarse
A rebel yell to match the boys of Wexford
Singing loud and long your voice as strong
As the rebellion in Claudette Colvinís song
Taught Rosa Parks to take a rebel stance
Taught Martin Luther King to hold a lance
Taught the redneck racists her rebel dance
Taught the Klan that they had no chance
An echo of her stance as a life-long hellion
Resisting the chains of anyoneís dominion
Her spirit in a 21st century animal rebellion
Her chimes of freedom are forever rung
For those born to die in agony too young
Sing for those who are forever hamstrung
By being born without a human tongue

© Noel Sweeney, 2023


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