Angela Jackson’s poem is about a character named Miz Rosa. She is one of the African-Americans who faced racial discrimination. Her story is not a unique one. Rather, it reflected the racial discrimination prevalent in the 19th century. At that time, the infamous Jim Crow laws disenfranchised the African-American community. It stopped them from getting any public facilities meant for the public’s holistic development. Through this story revolving around Rosa, readers can get to know the effects of racial segregation on the blacks during that period.
As the title says, the poem is about Miz Rosa and her journey by bus. It captures the happenings on a single day that took place on the bus while she was there. The event dates back to the late 19th century when the Jim Crow laws existed. If readers are aware of this infamous law, they will grasp the story easily. This story revolves around Miz Rosa and her life. She toils hard to make a livelihood. In that short journey, she faces racial discrimination and Jackson captures this fictional event in this piece.
You can read the full poem here.
This free verse poem is segregated into eight stanzas. Each stanza does not contain a set line-count. Some of them are long, while the others are comparably shorter. As an example, the seventh stanza contains ten lines. Whereas the following one has only three lines. The number of syllables in each line is few. For this reason, the poem becomes fast-paced and the flow never breaks in the middle. The overall poem is in the first-person point-of-view. So, it is an example of a lyric. The speaker, Miz Rosa talks about her experience on a bus journey. Apart from that, Jackson uses internal rhymings in place of a regular rhyme scheme.
The first literary device that can be found in ‘Miz Rosa Rides the Bus’ is alliteration. The phrase, “Miss Muffet of Montgomery” contains an alliteration of the “m” sound. It is also an example of consonance. Readers can find another literary device in the line just after this phrase. It is hyperbole and it can be seen in the usage of the term, “myriad-weary.”
To connect the lines internally, Jackson makes use of the device enjambment throughout this piece. This device is present in these lines, “Feets swole/ from sewing seams on a filthy fabric/ tired-sore a pedalin’ the rusty Singer.”
The “Singer” is a metaphor for Miz Rosa. There is another metaphor in the “silk-self.” Jackson uses an oxymoron in “Beautiful trouble.” Another important literary device is present in the line, “How many miles as the Jim Crow flies?” This line contains an allusion to the Jim Crow Laws and a rhetorical question as well. Readers can find the use of in the seventh stanza. In the last line, they can find a polysyndeton.
That day in December I sat down
by Miss Muffet of Montgomery.
loathsome with tears. Dreaming my own
‘Miz Rosa Rides the Bus’ takes place on a day in December. On that day, Miz Rosa, the central character, sat down by Miss Muffet of Montgomery. She was extremely tired. To depict her tiredness she uses the term, “myriad-weary.” She is weary not only of her work but also of something else. Readers will get to know the reason from the upcoming lines.
Her feet are swollen from sewing seams on a low-quality fabric. She was pedaling her sewing machine to complete the work. For this reason, she is extremely tired. The dingy cotton thread made her vision jammed. It is also a reference to her age. She seems to be an old lady who sewed for a living.
Throughout her life, she slid her needle through the teams. The work was so hard that sometimes she cried thinking about her condition. She dreamt of having a silken life but her reality turned out to be something else.
It was not like they all say. Miss Liberty Muffet
Beautiful trouble on the dead December
horizon. Come to sit in judgment.
The meeting with Miss Liberty Muffet of Montgomery was not usual. She did not jump in happiness after seeing Miz Rosa. When Rosa tried to sit by her, others hauled her out of the bus. A thousand kicking legs pinned her down to the ground. These lines depict how blacks were treated at that time. It shows the prevalent racial discrimination in every walks of life.
After this experience, her mind clouded in agony. According to the poet, it was, ironically, a “beautiful trouble on the dead December.” Whatsoever, the speaker does not seem agitated. Her tone is rather cold. A series of tortures had hardened her soul.
How many miles as the Jim Crow flies?
Over oceans and some. I rumbled.
dirty edges of Miss L. Muffet’s garment.
I rode again.
By the first line of this section, Jackson refers to the Jim Crow laws of the late 19th and early 20th centuries prevalent in Southern Democrat-dominated states of America. These laws were enacted to disenfranchise and remove the political and economic gains of the black community. In the following lines, the poet refers to the range of this act.
Thinking about this act and the treatment she received on the bus, made her rumble. They could not hold her down for long. She asserts her right by saying, “No” to their oppressive laws.
Her feet wad tired and her eyes sore. Still, she dared to get on the bus again. Though her heart was raw from hemming the dirty edges of Miss Muffet’s garment, she rode again, this time to resist them from throwing her down.
A thousand bloody miles after the Crow flies
that day in December long remembered when I sat down
They say—Eat and be satisfied.
I fast and pray and ride.
In the last section, the poet says Rosa crossed “bloody miles after the Crows fly that day.” This quoted line presents the imagery of the scene. Besides, the phrase “bloody miles” is a metaphor. It implies what happened on that day with Miz Rosa.
After sitting beside, Miss Muffet she ironically asked her, “What’s in the bowl, Thief?” She enquired of what was on her mind. If readers notice the lines starting with “I said,” they will understand that here the poet is using anaphora. She uses this device to portray the growing tension in the plot.
She slipped her frock and disembarked from the bus without caring much about what was happening with Rosa. On the bus, she was all by herself with her metaphorical “empty bowl.”
In the last stanza, the speaker says thousands of Jim Crow (Jim Crow was a derogatory term for blacks, specifically slaves) die in utter hopelessness. The racists order them to be satisfied with what they have. For this reason, the agitated speaker ironically remarks, “I fast and pray and ride.”
‘Miz Rosa Rides the Bus’ appears in Angela Jackson’s poetry collection “And All These Roads Be Luminous.” It was published in 1998. Jackson taps on the theme of racism in this piece. If readers focus on the historical context, they will understand the plot is set in late 19th century America. The reference to “Jim Crow” helps one to understand what is hinted at by the poet. This phrase is often attributed to “Jump Jim Crow”, a song-and-dance caricature of black people performed by white actor Thomas D. Rice in blackface. It was first surfaced in 1828 and used to satirize the populist policies of Andrew Jackson, the seventh president of the US.
The following poems are similar to the themes present in Angela Jackson’s poem.
- Nothing’s Changed by Tatamkhulu Afrika – This poem describes the rampant apartheid system prevalent in South Africa and explores racism.
- Stolen Rivers by Phillippa Yaa de Villiers – This poem is written in memory of Chiwoniso and her struggle to get what she wished for.
- Telephone Conversation by Wole Soyinka – This poem is about a conversation over the telephone, between a black man and a racist landlady.
- Enslaved by Claude McKay – This poem turns bitterness, hatred, and rage into an eloquent art form that anyone can read and wonder at.