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