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First Place • 2020 Poetry Contest

It was that summer
19 years old     I lived alone
fevered with independence
efficiency apartment on Summit Avenue
scratch cushions     pull-out couch
Goodwill dishes     my boyfriend and I
drank liquor from jelly glasses     pounded
the thin mattress even flatter     ignored
the metal frame bruising our backs

It was that summer
freedom meant working
Wisconsin Bell Telephone Company
long distance operator      26th & Highland
on the roof men with rifles      protecting
the communications center     claimed
danger of rioting      a takeover
IDs required in the lobby      no one spoke
on the elevators      the cafeteria on break
cut corn and meatloaf slabs      steaming
on shiny white plates      I squirted ketchup
a co-worker slapped spoonful of mayonnaise
when I asked she said lots of us use mayo
and us meant black people      and even though
she always carried a paperback  just like me
us also meant different      foreign

It was that summer
when the three men who rented
an apartment above mine      thundered
down the stairs      heavy boots      helmets
camouflage      rifles combat-ready
National Guard      my neighbors      maybe the same
men who jumped into the road      guns shouldered
at Reservoir Park      a checkpoint for entering
or leaving the city      to discourage another claim
marauding bands of armed men.

It was that summer
when throwing rocks and curses
was 30 seconds on the six o’clock news
and sunlight burned the asphalt
on the 16th Street Viaduct

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Susan Martell Huebner is the first-place winner of the 2020 Wisconsin People & Ideas Poetry Contest.

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