Up Barker Road, a left on Beam Road, down a mile or two
lay Crewport, many small yet crowded shacks clustered tightly
together, from two to four families living in each,
blankets hung to give each a modicum of privacy.
Whites called it The Labor Camp. Mexicans came up to work
the fields, mostly. Many stayed. As long as they could find work.
Fathers went to look, mothers kept the children warm and fed,
the fathers returned and mothers sat her families down
and after eating they returned to their reality,
survival, a good night’s sleep, rising with the sky still dark.
If there was work, the fathers and older children went out,
the girls as well as the boys, and they worked until dark fell.
If there was no work, the father returned to the hunt alone.
They came north from Texas. Sometimes they stayed:
por ejemplo, none of the Castenadas spoke English
but Irene, the oldest child, who translated everything
into English, all that her father heard and said, smiling
so his daughter could concentrate on the words and find those
that would give bosses what they demanded and her father
what he needed. She, most of all, enabled them to move
from Crewport to the Roza into a house of their own,
and she worked all the time she was not going to classes.
After school she worked two jobs. Weekends one only, full time.
After the drugstore’s soda fountain, she waited tables
at the Circle Inn, where Saturday night drunks badgered her
to dance to the music of Ol' Boys with Hawaiian guitars.
She kept her head, was slow to anger, she knew what to do
to keep up with house payments and put food on the table.
The younger children admired her, she loved them so they loved
in return, completely, having no example not to.
She took her father to Senor Alejandro’s garage
when the car needed repair. Floyce’s father and mother
invited them into the house for lunch, and Floyce was there,
upstairs, but when he heard Irene was here he came downstairs.
What are you doing? Writing . . . and reading East of Eden.
She did not know Steinbeck’s book. After lunch he told her all
that he knew, so far. He wanted to read her what he wrote,
but first he needed to ditch the vineyards to irrigate,
and she waited tables where main street curved and became a bridge.
Her father drove her to the restaurant. She worked till two,
when Floyce picked her up and drove her home. They kissed a long time.
Then he turned the dome light on to read her his new poem
about fathers and mothers and the children who go on
in their place, what he liked to call The Presence of Absence:
How can I know who is here when I’ve never seen a ghost?
Who guides the killdeer away from her nest when I approach?
Is the man with the mind of a child able to see more
than I, and if so, why does he fear only the police?
Why do I forget what I’m doing and simply do it?
as though there were a ghost inside me remembers how to
see so far and deep mere wraiths cannot abide my presence
and wait for you to share our own children, to fill their absence.
(9 November 2012)
copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander