Though this poem is a short ballad, Cullen manages to pack a gut- wrenching punch. It begins as an African American recalls a distant memory: He is young and riding a bus through the streets of downtown Baltimore. He realizes another kid, who is white, is staring at him, so the narrator decides to smile. However, the white kid retaliates by calling him an almost ancient slur. It is painful to read, and the suffering the young black kid endures is not dismissive. You do not have to be a victim of racial discrimination to experience this poem. This poem is designed to stay on your conscience for quite awhile, and it is impossible to finish without feeling unsettled.
Once riding in old Baltimore,
Heart-filled, head-filled with glee,
I saw a Baltimorean
Keep looking straight at me.