EUGENE RUGGLES - POET

The Stairs in Little Rock, Arkansas, 1957

Forty years ago today,
nine children were climbing
the longest stairs of hate
they would ever see, to enter
Little Rock Central High School.
The tall white crowd around them
shouting, "Give us one
of the nigger kids to hang,"
their faces lunging forward
through the heat,
"and we'll let the others go."

They were six girls and three boys,
the white dress of the first girl
clung to her with spit,
she was wiping it from her face
without tears,
the new books were torn
from their hands and ripped apart,
the screaming went on rising before them.
The stairs above them
kept flowing toward their bodies
through the heat,
light was breaking like glass on the steps,
another light broke around them.

They were climbing over hate
with a courage we had never seen.
They were leaving Eisenhower's paratroopers
across the street in the shade
and Brown vs Board of Education
with Thurgood Marshall in Topeka, Kansas
behind them. And they were
the first nine witnesses,
turning the terror in their backs to us.