A Picture of Young Female Life in the Late 1960’s-Early 1970’s: “Let’s Be Good”

This poem is self-explanatory, not particularly complex, perhaps, but others may be able to compare their own younger selves with it.

Let's Be Good

Don't ever let the flag touch the ground,
They told us.
A good Girl Scout
Never lets the flag touch the ground.
And so all of Alice Wright's tears
The day she dropped the neatly folded bundle
Entirely in the mud hole were mostly explained,
Except that she and Lisa Donner
Had had a fight that same day, fisticuffs and all,
Over a boy indifferent to both of them
As all of us knew,
Unfortuitously named Billy Hunney.
But on the bus rides to and from the camp,
We all made up and were the best of friends,
Finished taking sides in one another's quarrels,
All with amicable and overdone kindness,
As we had seen our mothers do.
We sang "Dem Bones Gon' Rise Again"
At the top of our lungs, though our abilities
Were less than perfect,
And some silly song called "Nothing"--
"Nothing, nothing, we sing nothing,
We sing nothing all day long"--
Of course getting riotous just to annoy the driver,
"Second verse, same as the first,
Little bit louder and a whole lot worse!"
Arriving home with flushed faces,
Gatorade sticky hands, messy tops and shorts
From the wilderness hike,
And some, more than not, with headaches
From the extravagant singing and shouting,
All of us climbing into mothers' vehicles
At the drop-off point, in the days before fathers
Were at home often enough or early enough
(Or could even be thought responsible)
For picking us up.  We at that time
Knew all the words to "The Pledge of Allegiance,"
Nor were we confused about "The Star-Spangled Banner,"
Sure it meant something important to someone
Who had our fate in hand,
And therefore we knew the words,
While what they meant,
That bit may have eluded us a little.
Our badges were a source of pride to us,
Though we weren't above fudging our accomplishments
Some, just in order to keep up with Emily Bartley,
The record-holder in our troupe,
Whom we tolerated because
She couldn't help having buck teeth.
Jennifer Allen, on the other hand,
We knew to cheat and swear,
And her we accepted for the sake of
Her rich father and raven hair,
Her tall, cute brother
And her jokes about the counselors,
Made just rarely enough to keep it funny.
But it all fell apart, for us,
The year we reached fifteen,
And Sam Hunney,
Billy's wild and wayward older brother,
Invaded the camp in secret
One afternoon rest time,
While most of us were snoozing on rocks
And towels by the lake,
And tied up and raped Emily,
Who had been alone in a cabin with a headache;
Who, as Jennifer pointed out later,
Wasn't even pretty.
There was much talk then, after Sam got his just deserts,
And Emily was sent to a private mental hospital
To recuperate, which as far as we knew she never actually did,
But then we all lost track.  But the talk, the vows and
 threats,
Were all about keeping our children safe, our daughters
 and wives,
And somehow, the thought shifted from Sam Hunney,
Who was white, to the supposed violence of the black
 community,
And it was the time, the time, of race riots suddenly,
And brutal policemen whereas before they'd been our
 friends,
And we no longer thought it was cool to sing
"Dem Bones" at the drivers of the bus.
Instead, we listened to our mothers and fathers, some of
 us,
And some of us took drugs and went with long-haired boys
To our parents' despair,
And others of us took to reading "Ms. Magazine" and
 "Playgirl,"
In the days before "Playgirl" started playing to gay men,
Each in her own way carrying the flag as she was meant to
 carry it,
In terms of her own freedom, rights, and rites,
Strange as some of them were,
Because a good Girl Scout
Never lets the flag touch the ground,
Or hardly ever, anyway,
No, a good Girl Scout
Never lets the flag touch the ground.

©Victoria Leigh Bennett, 2/14/17

(N.B.:  I know that for some people, the race riots were much earlier, but in the area where I lived, they happened in general later.)  Shadowoperator

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Filed under Poetry and its forms and meanings, What is literature for?

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