Si Se Puede*
(For my Uncle and Father)
We heard stories of men grasping axles to ride
under trains, “coyotes” who stuffed men into trucks,
locked the doors into an airless ovens, bodies found near the river.
They came, on foot, twelve to a pickup, square, brown Indios
whose lightening hands moved across fields like blizzards,
clearing orchards and fields for a few coins a bushel.
Evenings, the ranchers would come. Truck tires on gravel, worried men
who’d take hats off to rub their heads, run granite hands
down their jaws, the count. Life on this land was the count.
One year there were different faces. Priests, nuns,
brown faces, strong woman faces who talked of twenty
to a room, no plumbing, fifteen hour days, solidarity.
The men who came for the count now gathered
in barns and boardrooms, shot bullets from their eyes
when they saw us. The students were coming to march,
work alongside, live in the shacks, tell.
I drank the richness of our friend from Delano.
His eyes warmed hearts, his gentle voice a sword that cut
through a hundred years.
Cesar stood with my Uncle, When I asked if I could pick grapes
with the students. He looked at my Uncle and laughed.
No chica, it’s too dangerous,
and you might get your knees dirty.
*Si se puede (Yes we can) was the slogan of Cesar Chavez and the organizing United Farmworkers, It was used later as the slogan for the Obama campaign.