Saturday, July 16, 2011

Short History in the Mirror

Vietnam was not American slang yet.
It was still Vietnam.
Not Nam. Vietnamese were not yet gooks,
they were still themselves.
The Jolly Green Giant canned peas, I worked
the graveyard shift,
pitching pea vines with a pitchfork
on a conveyor belt to separate
Green Giants from silage.
From six to two in the morning
I wrestled with such tangle.
I slept well,
those who took over always looked sleepy,
I could not see myself.
When the peas ended I returned
to the orchards. Outside Stockman’s Café
the trucks pulled up like school buses
and all day I went to school.
The migrant workers taught me Spanish words.
It was a language of laughter and love.
It was even before Cuba.
And no one who spoke ingles gave a shit,
let alone laughed if not in derision,
a malady nigh to oblivion.
Ole! the drunks cried in the morning hours
unable to sleep, staying up all night
blubbering hatred only they could hear,
there would be too great a price
otherwise. I was too young to hear them.
In the orchards I repeated the words
in espanol until I heard myself
speaking a cadence not too far from theirs.
I made less money, I listened too hard
when I worked among them. They loved the kid
who planned to go to college.
After that, the warehouse, the canneries;
weekends, between seasons, in the vineyards,
and going to mass to be with Irene
Castenada, who taught me the language
of love with kisses and her slender thighs . . .
on the hill, highest point above the church.

(16 July 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander

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