One of my first jobs was with the Migrant Education Program. I was working at a small school in the hills east of Moss Landing. Most of my students there worked in the nearby strawberry farms. They would start working with their families as soon as it was light enough to see. Sometimes they would be working three to four hours before coming to school.
During my lunch breaks I often went to my car and ate my sandwich and read the morning paper. I had a thermos that kept the coffee warm, so I was comfortable out there. I was shy, so I was much more comfortable taking my lunch break out there.
One day the farmer across the road from the school led one of his steers to his pickup truck. He tied them to the tailgate and pulled out a rifle and shot the steer. In a very short time he began to slaughter the animal. He removed the hide quickly, rolled it up and tossed it into the truck. And very quickly cut it into manageable pieces. By the end of my lunch break his job was done and he drove off someplace with the truck load of meat.
I usually read the San Francisco Chronicle at that time. I was a fan of Herb Caen. He was a columnist. He wrote a lot of gossip and things happening in the San Francisco area. He called San Francisco “Baghdad by the Bay.” I haven’t checked but maybe some people still use that term.
This leads me to that news clipping above. I read that brief article and the terrible thing that happened to him, and it just didn’t seem enough.
I started writing my own narrative. I’m very modest about being a poet, so I don’t want to say that I started writing a poem. When I finish my first draft, I thought I was a POC. I kept working on it. I was never satisfied with it. Finally, 16 years later I said it is finished.
I have posted this before, but this time I am including this introduction.
The Boy Eugene Martinez
I remember November
And the day, and the cold fog clinging to my cheeks.
It was the day the black cars were waiting
With their headlights glowing,
The day the people were treading slowly
From the white and silent chapel.
Then Eugene came.
He was emerging into the vague light of the fog,
Floating silently in his bed of flowers,
Now beyond danger,
Beyond pain and memory,
Beyond the sounds of his mother weeping.
I remember that day,
And the slow moving headlights gliding past my vantage,
And the cold damp air dripping
Down my collar.
I followed quietly.
There was no sound save the crunch
Of gravel as I stepped, no sight but the white light
Of the covered sun.
I could not see his new home.
There was no sight of the priest
Hypnotized in prayer,
No sight of the mother pleading for a second chance.
No sight of the two boys who grabbed him
And beat him until his life gushed out.
I remember that day
In November, of 1974, when they found him
Under the bridge
As cold as the season’s dirt beneath him,
The moment he was made sightless,
the moment he was trapped forever
by the darkness.
And I remember how they found him.
He was sprinkled with sawdust, silent and still.
His skin was white in the light bath
Of the street lamp.
Two boys were captured.
They were ten and twelve.
They followed Eugene.
They followed his skipping.
They followed him quietly,
Out of his field of vision,
Following the money held tightly in his hands,
And the note to the grocer listing
Milk and eggs and bread.
The two boys were captured.
They found a board.
They brought it down
Until Eugene no longer cared.
I remember Eugene.
I remember how he turned his head whenever
I was speaking,
How he must have thought that
Every word I spoke was truth.
He asked me one time
“How many things are there to know?”
I stood there
Doubting the answers I could I could give him.
I answered him quietly
Softly, when I was certain that no one else could hear.
“How many questions can you ask?”