Minor Miracle

By Marilyn Nelson b. 1946 Marilyn Nelson
Which reminds me of another knock-on-wood   
memory. I was cycling with a male friend,
through a small midwestern town. We came to a 4-way   
stop and stopped, chatting. As we started again,   
a rusty old pick-up truck, ignoring the stop sign,   
hurricaned past scant inches from our front wheels.   
My partner called, “Hey, that was a 4-way stop!”   
The truck driver, stringy blond hair a long fringe
under his brand-name beer cap, looked back and yelled,
                “You fucking niggers!”
And sped off.
My friend and I looked at each other and shook our heads.   
We remounted our bikes and headed out of town.   
We were pedaling through a clear blue afternoon   
between two fields of almost-ripened wheat   
bordered by cornflowers and Queen Anne’s lace   
when we heard an unmuffled motor, a honk-honking.   
We stopped, closed ranks, made fists.
It was the same truck. It pulled over.
A tall, very much in shape young white guy slid out:   
greasy jeans, homemade finger tattoos, probably   
a Marine Corps boot-camp footlockerful   
of martial arts techniques.

“What did you say back there!” he shouted.   
My friend said, “I said it was a 4-way stop.   
You went through it.”
“And what did I say?” the white guy asked.   
“You said: ‘You fucking niggers.’”
The afternoon froze.

“Well,” said the white guy,
shoving his hands into his pockets
and pushing dirt around with the pointed toe of his boot,   
“I just want to say I’m sorry.”
He climbed back into his truck
and drove away.

Marilyn Nelson, “Minor Miracle” from The Fields of Praise: New and Selected Poems. Copyright 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997 by Marilyn Nelson. Reprinted with the permission of Louisiana State University Press.

Source: The Fields of Praise: New and Selected Poems (Louisiana State University Press, 1997)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Marilyn Nelson b. 1946

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Subjects Race & Ethnicity, Social Commentaries, Relationships

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Marilyn  Nelson


Born in Cleveland, Ohio, into a military family, Marilyn Nelson is a three-time finalist for the National Book Award and an accomplished poet, children’s verse author, and translator. She has won two Pushcart Prizes, two Yaddo residencies, fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation, and the 2012 Frost Medal from the Poetry Society of America. Nelson is a professor emeritus at the . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Race & Ethnicity, Social Commentaries, Relationships

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Poetic Terms Free Verse

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.