The Negro Motorist Green Book doesn’t make it into many U.S. history books. First published in the 1930s and updated through the 60s, the Green Book was a vital listing of non-discriminatory services and lodging throughout America.
The “open road” it wasn’t, and isn’t—that’s an ideal taken for granted by white Americans in our literature and our culture.
‘Field Notes on Leaving’ is an incredible poem by Tyree Daye that takes the Green Book and distills it through stars and constellations, Barack Obama, airport security, and the Dougie. I’m thinking about passage and access, about a freedom to move freely, and movement as the physical affirmation of the self. Daye drains the naïveté from the canon:
I can’t afford to think like Whitman
that whatever I shall meet on the road I shall love,
and whoever beholds me shall love me.
This small poem is rich with reference and direction, creating loops between now and before, poetry and the realities of being in a car without the luxury of whiteness. There’s a reason this poem has stayed in my browser since April.