Which reminds me of another knock-on-wood memory. I was cycling with a male friend, through a small midwestern town. We came to a 4-way stop and stopped, chatting. As we started again, a rusty old pick-up truck, ignoring the stop sign, hurricaned past scant inches from our front wheels. My partner called, "Hey, that was a 4-way stop!" The truck driver, stringy blond hair a long fringe under his brand-name beer cap, looked back and yelled, "You fucking niggers!" And sped off. My friend and I looked at each other and shook our heads. We remounted our bikes and headed out of town. We were pedaling through a clear blue afternoon between two fields of almost-ripened wheat bordered by cornflowers and Queen Anne's lace when we heard an unmuffled motor, a honk-honking. We stopped, closed ranks, made fists. It was the same truck. It pulled over. A tall, very much in shape young white guy slid out: greasy jeans, homemade finger tattoos, probably a Marine Corps boot-camp footlockerful of martial arts techniques. "What did you say back there!" he shouted. My friend said, "I said it was a 4-way stop. You went through it." "And what did I say?" the white guy asked. "You said: 'You fucking niggers.'" The afternoon froze. "Well," said the white guy, shoving his hands into his pockets and pushing dirt around with the pointed toe of his boot, "I just want to say I'm sorry." He climbed back into his truck and drove away.
From The Fields of Praise, published by Louisiana State University Press. Copyright © 1997 by Marilyn Nelson. All rights reserved. Used with permission.