The Boy

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.

Eugene Martinez

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,

soundless, unhearing;

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

And down

And down,

Until Eugene no longer cared.

 

I remember Eugene.

I remember.

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.

He waited.

I answered him quietly

Softly, when I was certain that no one else could hear.

“How many questions can you ask?”

 

 

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The Golden Gate

“Daddy, what is that?” She asked.

She was pointing to the island known as Alcatraz.

They were mid-span about the waters and the gulls.

“What is that?” She asked, this time

pointing to the long gray structure

known as the Bay Bridge.

“What are those?” She said,

pointing to the high rise spires of the city.

“And over there!”

Pointing to the sails, the ships, the boats

that passed gracefully below them.

“Where is our house?” She asked.

“Can we see it from here?” She said,

with little understanding.

The bay breeze whipped through her clothes,

the city lights, the city streets, shining like a promise.

“It is time to fly, Little One.” Her father told her

as he raised her slowly to his arms

and lifted gently.

He raised her above the railing.

He pushed her away quickly and sent her over the side.

He watched the surprise in her eyes as she sped down,

down to the dull green bay waters,

she flew down then sank from sight.

“I’ll be there soon.” He said as he wrestled with the railing

and tossed himself over,

tossed himself over,

toward the comfort of the swells,

and deep into their final moment.

 

(Based on an article from the San Francisco Chronicle)

 

 

 

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Morning Sickness

“Mama don’t go.”

Melvin’s words were simple.

They were brief but they rattled

terribly in his mother’s ears

long after.

Even unto this day,

those few words live long.

 

“I need you.”

He said.

His eyes had failed

to open that damp November dawning.

A fever and a restless night of sickly sleep

brought tears and need in the early morning gray.

 

“Please don’t go. I need you today.”

The words were desperately spoken as the boy’s

mother dressed herself and readied herself for the

commute and work.

 

“Mama’s stay, I’m feeling sick,

I am hot and cold and everything hurts.”

He needed to feel that he was worthy of her moments,

that he was worthy of her concern.

 

“Baby don’t cry, you know that I must leave.

You’ll be okay.”

She kissed him softly on his palid brow and

with the thorough and regretful longing, she left the room

and clicked the door behind her.

 

“Mama don’t go.”

She heard his voice again coming from behind the door.

“I’ll be home shortly.”

She told herself and him as she blended into traffic

and drove the tears from her eyes.

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Catharsis (Uncle Joe’s 1st heart break)

It was cold that day,

in late December, in 1965,

when the north wind storm bounced the car

and us inside it,

and cracked the clouds

and shook loose it’s moisture.

We sat there,

in our cozy privacy.

I sat there,

paralyzed from the temple down, and

enchanted by the sight of her knees, and

fearful of her coming words.

A mouth full of lava slipped down my throat.

Wavering specters danced upon the pavement.

The raindrops pelted the rooftop

then relaxed toward the ground.

I watched them,

I watched.

 

That site and sound again has passed before me

wrenching my focus, dislodging the glaucos sordes.

The sound I heard at age 17,

the sound of empty promise.

That sound again,

Of jetsome thoughts,

exhumes echoes fluid in form:

 

“Don’t change.” She said. “Please, don’t ever change.”

 

 

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The Songbirds (a Fourth Grade Adventure)

“Time for SongBirds.” Miss Kelly said.

“Oh no!” Joe looked up at her bright red hair and freckled face. He quickly lowered his eyes hoping she would take no notice of him. He hated singing. The last time she called on him to sing he croaked like a frog. The class laughed, but Miss Kelly was mad. Her freckled face became almost as red as her hair.

So Joe kept his eyes down and looked at the top of his desk. He did not even want to play with Mary Lee’s hair. It was very long and always hung over the back of her seat and on to his desk. When Miss Kelly was not looking he would tie knots in Mary Lee’s hair or put he would put little pieces paper in her hair.   It was fun to watch Mary Lee go home with her hair looking like a trash heap.

“But not today. I’m not doing anything to make Miss Kelly notice me now.”

“Who wants to be first?” Miss Kelly asked. She waited for someone to raise their hand.

“I will.”   Gail said.   She shyly stood up then moved to the front of the class. Her hair was cut short for a girl, but Joe liked her any way.

“She’d make a nice girl friend,” he thought. “Wait a minute. I can’t even have a bicycle. How am I going to have a girl friend?” He let out a sigh. “I guess I’ll settle for just walking her to school and back.” Sometimes he even carried her books for her.

“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound . . .” She sang her song softly and sweetly and then sat down.

“That’s cheating.” Joe thought. “She learned that in her church. They don’t sing songs like that in my church.”

Miss Kelly walked to wall chart and next to Gail’s name she colored in a little blue song bird. She now had seven.

“Joseph, would you like to try sing a song this time?” Miss Kelly asked him. He felt a nervous knot grow in his stomach.

“What do you think?” The voice inside him answered.

“O.K.” He said, wisely. The voice inside him said a lot of bad things, but he seldom said them out loud.

“That voice inside me is going to get me in a lot trouble some day.” He got up and nervously walked to the front of the class. “I don’t want Gail to know I’m scared.”

Joe coughed and cleared his throat. A couple of students giggled. They must have thought he was going to be silly again. He tried to be serious this time. He looked at Miss Kelly. She gave him an encouraging smile, so he began.

“Buy a Ford. Buy a Ford. Buy a Ford today. If you can’t afford a Ford, buy a Chevrolet. Hey!”

Joe sat down quickly. Miss Kelly had a funny look on her face, but at least she did not get mad.

“Very nice, Joseph. Where did you hear that song?”

“My Cousin George.” He said meekly.

“I bet your cousin George teaches you a lot of things, doesn’t he?”

Joe just shook his head up and down. Miss Kelly walked to the wall chart and colored in a blue song bird next to his name. Joe was not sure what to think.

“Well, at least I didn’t get yelled at.” His inner voice told him.

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The Lady in the Bed

tb_sanitorium

    “Who’s that?” I asked.

The year was 1950. I was barely three years old, but I still remember. My memory is a bit fuzzy about exactly where we were. We were probably at the Maryknoll hospital in Monrovia, California. By “we” I mean, my brother and two sisters. My Aunt Nellie was driving, Aunt Emily and my grandma shared the front seat.

The drive from Oxnard to Monrovia seemed to take forever. I had to sit still. That was a real challenge in the best of circumstances. But as a toddler I tended to get carsick a lot. I could not see anything except for the back of the front seat, maybe some clouds if I looked to the side. The winding road didn’t help, but my hands had a simple, practical solution. They didn’t feed me, or give me anything to drink. I tried standing up so I can see out, that did not last long.

Finally we were there. In my little eyes I saw a huge complex of buildings. We walked away to a special building. My grandma and the aunties went inside. The four of us waited outside in the shade. In a short time one of my aunties appeared through a screened window.

“Carlitos, will you lift up Baby Joe?” My brother didn’t say anything. He was about twelve years old at the time. He lifted me up and I stood on his shoulders. I could barely see over the window sill. I pulled myself higher for a better look.

“Hurry up!” My brother urged, his voice was straining. I am sure that my shoes were cutting into his shoulders. My focus adjusted from the mesh of the dusty screen to the bed beyond.

There she was. She was smiling back at me, her smiling and tears colliding. She was propped up by a pillow, in a large room of empty beds. The table next to her had a small oscillating fan that whispered quietly as it blew the air around.

“How are you doing, Jody?” Her voice was comfort. She stretched her arms out toward me.

“O.K.” I answered. My name is Joe, I thought.

My brother lowered me when he could hold me up any longer. I ran off to play and my brother and two sisters looked through the window and took their turns talking.

My grandma and my aunts were inside the room. They were sitting and having conversations but they did keep their distance.

A while later Boy found me and said “Come and say good-bye.” He dragged me back to the building and lifted me up to the window one more time.

“Good-bye Jody.” She said to me. “Take care. You be a good boy now.”

“Good-bye.” I answered to the lady with a warm smile and tears streaming from her eyes.

“Good-bye, Lady in the Bed.”

 

 

 

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Frank and Henry by Carlos Najera

 

Back in 1953 my brothers Frank and Henry Olivas were at a local beer joint here in Oxnard. They met a woman there who was visiting from out of town. She drove a brand-new Cadillac convertible.

The rest of the story is not so nice. They went out for a ride, the three of them. They were on Pleasant Valley Rd. and she failed to stop when they got to Highway 101.

A truck ran into them. The lady was thrown from the car and died instantly, my two brothers as well. They were literally smashed to pieces. They were both in their 30s when the Great One took them away. That left my brother Roberto, sister Natalia, and me.

Thoughts like it doesn’t seem fair popped into my head and mixed with my other sorrows. We are not promised fairness. We are promised a seat at the table when we reach the other side.

“The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Job 1:21

 

 

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