It was enough to ruin a friendship—
breaking the promise not to tell, not even to talk
about it, not to tell his girlfriend
he had skipped his art class and I my chemistry lab
to be in a police line up, both of us
tall and black and medium-complected, both of us
willing to do someone else a favor
and go down to the main New Haven Police Station
so there would finally be enough of us,
some of us Yalies and some of us townies, none of us
saying very much as we entered the station
crowded with black men and brown men, all of us
waiting to go in the rooms and stand in a line.
When it was time, we each got a number
to hold and it was clear this was no ordinary favor
no interesting academic study no joke no
experience to talk about at parties or on vacation
at home not even some small way of helping
to end the rapes that had been happening on campus
to white women who sat with us in class or
in dining halls or sometimes lived across the hall.
One by one, we stepped out of line, turned
left, turned back front, stepped back. One by one.
And the one of us brought in in chains
seemed dull and out of step with us. And, after,
the Yalies got in a van, rode silently back.
My friend who had not looked at me asked me not to tell
his girlfriend where we'd been. I told him I would not.
I forgot. I can't tell why, but I forgot
not to tell her. But when he came to me angry to talk,
I remembered, and I was ashamed and sorry.
It was enough to ruin a friendship. Ten months before,
our friendship new and already deep, we honored
our first Thanksgiving away from the families we'd come from,
homes we missed much more than we'd even expected.
After dinner, a white couple came over to tell us they'd been
watching and they wanted us to know how nice we seemed
to be, the difference we were from the other blacks they knew,
how kind to each other we seemed.
For a moment, my friend and I looked away from each other
and into the faces of those who stood smiling.
One of us asked where they'd come from, the other how soon
they'd be gone. We went back to the meal, talking but
not talking about the white couple from Detroit,
then something mute came and sat at our table, waiting.
Poems by Forrest Hamer:
TEN: An Anthology of Northern California Poets