Marta Ferguson and Mustang Sally
It’s that time, right? Red rocks, cactus margaritas, whatever signifies vacation to any of you. I suspect what counts as vacation depends on where you’re from, what media you consume, and what you can afford.
This poem, like my other Mustang Sally poems, is a persona piece, one in which I get to try out an alternate life where those conditions are somewhat different for me. As Sally does, I came from a Midwestern blue-collar town where racial and class tensions significantly overlapped. I took the name, “Mustang Sally,” from the old Motown hit because, in spite of (because of?) the racial difference, Motown music has always resonated with me. The industrial world, the class values, the family stuff all sounded a lot more like home than the farm life idealized by the country music of my youth. In my poems, Mustang Sally is a trailer-trash white girl, with origins not so different from my own.
The salient difference ultimately being money. The combination of my scholarships and my folks’ hard-won savings paid my way into the gentrified existence I now enjoy. And I’m aware almost daily of differences my own child takes for granted. The genesis of the Mustang Sally poems is often in those points of class difference.
This poem, “Mustang Sally Takes a Vacation,” though, springs from similarities between me and my alter ego. I’d like to think whoever I’d have been either in this life or the one I’d have put together without the money to leave home, the comforts of sunshine and alcohol, the bewilderment of connection and the loss of it, the curiosity about a larger life would all still be part of the deal.
As a feminist, I value the awareness, the politicizing, of such differences in class, race and ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation, and any similarities that might crack or underscore those differences. The examination of such issues forms part of my work as a writer, as a citizen, as a life partner, and as a parent. While I think it’s problematic to borrow an icon out of African-American culture as a namesake for my alter ego, and I think it’s problematic to be a married heterosexual with a literary persona who indulges in the occasional girl crush, I hope such blurrings of identity can be seen as boundary crossings, not boundary violations, as me writing in who I’m not while I live out who I am. Perhaps, too, it’s a measure of how much Motown shaped my imaginative life growing up and how much feminism, in its many manifestations, has shaped my imaginative life as a woman.
Food for thought. So, I’m stepping down from the soapbox now, and wishing you all a great vacation this summer, whatever form it takes!