Volume 35, Number 1

Nice People

Pacing again tonight, like last night,
and every night since that traffic stop.
When a whoop, whoop from behind
and red lights flashing in the rearview
reduced me to someone I thought I’d outgrown.

When my pulse quickened and fingers fumbled
to depress the button that lowered my window.
When the officer extended his white,
freckled hand, that looked just like mine,
to take my license and registration.

When his announcement—Don’t worry, Ma’am,
I’m not giving you a ticket. You look like a nice person

caught my breath and cued my inner voices.
One, new and timid, trying to ask the bold question.
Another, more practiced, calling for silence,
hoping to avoid a costly ticket.

When he bragged, above the rush of passing cars,
about working to keep our community safe,
and my old familiar voice won out.
Don’t make eye contact. Keep quiet.
Ignore what he just admitted.

When he said Good day and walked away,
and I told myself it was nervousness,
or conditioned respect for authority,
anything but the seductive lure of privilege
that made me miss the moment
and swallow the question:

What do nice people look like, Officer?

—Carol A. Smith