for Blanche Rice

this is dedicated to all the Black women riding on buses
and subways back
and forth to the MainLine, Haddonfield, N.J., Cherry Hill…
This is for the Black Back-Ups…
This is for my mama and your mama…
And the colored girls say
Do dodo do do…
Kate Ruskin, The Black-Backups

The bell gave a sharp buzz in the pantry when Nana pressed a button
under the dining room table. In response, Blanche would come out
of the kitchen. She entered the dining room, her lips pressed into a question
and returned to deliver entrees for answers. Surrounded by porcelain plates
and heavy silverware, she was always in her eyelet-trimmed apron and green
uniform which reminded me of spinach. Before dessert, I’d escape
the dining room, return to the kitchen to help her with the undressing of dinner.

Miz Sanny Jane (she always prefaced her remarks with a swipe at the wisps
of her black hair blanching at herorehead). Mercy, mercy she’d exclaim.
She could see me standing there, in a happy place, complaining. Miz Sanny Jane, ain’t you go no worries bigger than that to cry about, girl? I knew hers were long enough to reach the sky. I knew they couldn’t be put in my pocket.
At dinner I carried the silver pitcher into the dining room and tried
not to spill her out. When she went into the garden

to cut grandfather’s peonies, I’d run to take her hand, plead with her
to go down to the brook with me, but, Mercy, mercy, Child, ain’t got no time.
I wanted to know why we couldn’t invite her to our house for dinner.
So what’s wrong with Negroes
? A pause, Blanche is not like the others,
she knows her place
, Nana said.

On Sundays, with her dark hands floured to kneed the dough, she pressed down hard. She cracked the fine eggs just so and scrambled her obligations into small clumps. I took them for love. She was my sidewise grandmother. But where
does she go by bus?
When does she go to church if she comes to us on Sundays? And who takes care of her children while she takes care of us?
Does she have a husband? And who tends her garden and scrubs her floor?

Nana never answered. These questions left without a sound, left with Blanche
on the bus.

Published in Over A Threshold of Roots, Sandra Larson, Pudding House Chapbook Series, 2007