on Cesar Chavez Day
When he slipped beside me
in the elevator’s glassed hush
we talked about grapes, what else?
Distressed that the latest boycott
was unknown back in my town, he vowed
to get the word out. Now it was poisons
killing fieldworkers that ripened his protest--
what could I do but agree? My whole life
had been adorned by bumper stickers
demanding BOYCOTT GRAPES--the Valley
a boiling California Judea, with Cesar
leading endless charges on the big growers’
money-picking Jerusalems in Fresno and Delano.
And now, here stood this tiny grandpa at my elbow--
it was like finding Marilyn Monroe picking
through the lettuce at Safeway.
The glass cage set us smack
into the Hyatt’s breakfast buffet,
so we passed among the gleaming trays
of grapes and cantaloupe and strawberry.
Not one diner voiced thanks for the safe,
tasty fruit that somebody’s mom
had to pluck in that fertile inferno
where it’s a hundred-ten in the shade
on harvest afternoons. But I understood
that Cesar never expected gratitude from strangers.
He strolled, a free man, without commotion,
to deliver the keynote address to our union,
and as I left him at the podium, I thought,
when I get home, I’ll stay off grapes
and do my best to get our table manners
back in shape.
Lee Patton, a Denverite, writes fiction, poetry, drama and commentary. Quarterlies that have published his work include The Threepenny Review, The Massachusetts Review, The California Quarterly, and Hawaii-Pacific Review. His second novel, Love and Genetic Weaponry: The Beginner’s Guide, was launched from Alyson Books in May 2009.