It is not a steely-eyed
egret nor heft of pelican but just a singing bird that catches
from a balcony perched
across from pines lining the marina. Here I make watch of
shifting sky, distant buoy
sounding swells in the bay, common robin chiming in on the wind.
But this bird makes its
roost in the forked trunk, where branches droop heavy with
Like this robin, I try to
perfect a voice in the intimate language of birds, call back at
parroting the rise and fall
of its wistful warbling, practicing the melodic whistling.
Everything readies for
something - above, wide wings of dark crows fan the horizon.
a ray steers clear of a row.
A dog splashes into the water, his boy crying for a lost oar.
Twilight settles on tapping
riggings and masts, breeze in the tinny chimes, spring in the
“How do you know you
are going to die?”
I begged my
mother...With strange confidence she answered,
“When you can no
longer make a fist.”~Naomi
My mother, born into the
flapper era, never bobbed
her hair, never sported
drop waist dresses with a cloche,
nor did she cover her
face with pancake and rouge,
lifting her skirt above
her knees in speakeasies
or on Gatsby verandas.
She came of age in World War II.
Draped in white
coveralls, hair wrapped in a red scarf
under a hardhat, clear
goggles shielding her amber eyes,
she welded Pressed
Steel’s boxcars outside Pittsburgh
like women in Toledo hauling Jeep parts to Ford lines,
like those assembling fuselages on bombers in Long Beach
or for Boeing’s Flying Fortresses in Seattle,
like women filing bullets for the Army,
or building ships at California’s Richmond docks,
like those feeding blast furnaces in steel mills,
sparks flying at the giant cauldrons of molten steel.
women on railroads, in shipyards,
as pipe fitters and riggers, bus drivers and mechanics,
like those shooting riveting guns or ferrying planes,
ratcheting with wrenches or lighting torches,
arms linked across America with the plains women,
with the farm women, the desert and mountain women,
with the city women, even with Marilyn Monroe,
who as Norma Jean, attached propellors to planes.
My mother never jumped
drunken in her clothes
into a fountain like F.
Scott Fitzgerald’s new women,
but she did drop,
donning her mail order rayon sheath,
from a rowboat into the
lake, belting out the high notes
of Indian Love Call at a
USO picnic. She learned
to love the night shift
as a blackout air warden
and became the woman who
I would later blast
for not pulling free
from my father’s fierce grip.
I have become the woman who no longer wonders
how I dared knuckle into
my own fist, raise it high
for rights in rallies
and marches for reason and right
because I had a mother
who dared give up a job
as a nursemaid for the
rail yard and factory,
relinquish the girdle to
the rubber drive, who never
threw off the helmet for
the apron, and went on
living as if she could
~ Human Equity through Art
Women of the Fields
Dolores Huerte, UFW co-founder
declared her a born again Feminist at 83
The women of the
fields clip red bunches of grapes
in patches of
neatly tilled farmland in the San Joaquin,
globes they can no longer stand to taste -
miles shy of Santa Cruz beach babies
Pleasure Beach surfers on longboards,
all the cool
convertibles speeding the Cabrillo Highway
women line as
pickers, back bent over summer’s harvest.
The campesinas labor
without shade tents or water buffalos,
oversized shirts and baggie work pants, disguised
as what they are
not, faces masked in bandanas under cowboy hats
in fils de
the young one named Ester taken in the onion
with the field boss’ gardening shears at her
the older one called Felicia isolated in the
and pushed down into a doghouse. The pretty
without work papers, asked to bear a son in
for a room and a job in the pumpkin patch,
Isabel, ravaged napping under a tree at the
end of a dream
after a long morning picking pomegranates, violación
de un sueño.
Salome on the apple ranch forced up against
as the boss bellowed his ecstatic Ave, Ave
The promotoras flex
muscle in words, steal off into night
face-to-face to talk health care, pesticides,
meet to tally
accounts - forced to exchange panties for paychecks
in orchards, on
ranches, in fields, in truck beds - to speak out to
deportation to an old country, a new foreign soil.
Women of the
fields, like those before them, like those
who will trail
after - las Chinas, Japonesas, Filipinas -
to slave for
frozen food empires in pesticide drift,
along the skin, creeping into the nostrils
it ends as they hide from La Migra
in vines soaked
in toxins or crawl through sewer tunnels,
tracks, through fences to pick strawberries,
for this, this: la
fruta del diablo.
Center’s The New
About a Fight?
What is it that
balls a man’s fists into sudden rage,
blocking, body weaving and swaying -
a poker bet gone
bad, tiff over a last shot and beer,
wrong song on the
jukebox, something the other guy
said years ago to
the woman he didn’t marry anyway?
What is it, when the
brawl tumbles into the street,
honking horns, grunting OohRah!
even when one face
is already kissing the pavement?
No Sugar Ray or Ali,
what drives the everyday Joe,
digs in so deep,
courses across scarred knuckles,
the broken tooth,
blackened eye, flattened nose?
They say my father
liked a fight. Was it his old juvie record
determination or hope, his annulled marriage
to a bigamist
collecting veteran’s checks, or layoffs at the mill
just before benefits
kicked in, a monotony of existence?
What of those of us
who years later toss and turn over
brutal thoughts that
won’t abate, still hearing the screech
of a police car
hitting the curb, the smack of the body
asphalt? They say my father liked a fight.
And as they carted
him off to jail again, what of the wife -
my mother behind the
window’s bent blind slat
who, as the cruiser
takes off, she thinking I am not there
to hear her own
wounded spirit sigh, says:
“Finally, maybe now
I can get a good night’s sleep.”
Literary Review Pushcart Prize Nomination;
PEN Oakland Fightin' Words Anthology.