At the stoplight of the Overland entrance
To the Santa Monica Freeway going west,
A woman is standing on the four-foot wide median
That separates traffic, selling bags of oranges
And peanuts from a shopping cart,
Single stemmed crimson roses.
She walks up and down, peering
Over the flowers into the drivers’ windows.
I try to figure how much she makes
On each two dollar bag of oranges,
Each two dollar long stemmed rose.
I buy a rose, a bag of oranges and some peanuts,
Tell her keep the change from the twenty and wish her well.
At home I put the rose in a glass of water
And think about my own atravesados,
My own crossers of borders–Luftmenschen—
People who could live on air as they traveled,
with their hearts trussed with twine and old rope,
Clutchers of lean bones,
Their valises stuffed with stale bread, hard, long-shots,
Posed sepia memories in stiff borrowed clothes,
Clutchers of thin straws and last hopes,
Who didn’t wear necklaces of marigolds and sugar skulls
But maybe one of rozhinkes mit mandlin,
Raisins and almonds,
Who didn’t drink champurado made from corn and chocolate
But glasses of tea with a lumps of sugar between their teeth.
In Russia, they were pickers and sellers,
Who bought pins, needles paper and string
For a ruble and sold them for a ruble and a half,
Who stood on their toes to reach God’s ear
Beyond the pale of settlement.
Rockers in the lap of steerage.
Venders and hawkers
Wheeling pushcarts on the cobblestones
Instead of shopping carts by the freeway.
They were luchenkups–noodle headed dreamers.
I want to see you again Juana,
Face to face, no glass between us.
I want this poem to be my ofrenda to you,
Guelaguetza—and an offering for my people of the air.
That these words like your corn stalks and sugar cane
Arch across the years to provide an alter in time
A space to lay out my luftmenschen’s pictures,
Their favorite things, and mementos.
My father’s stiff, sweat stained handball gloves,
A picture of him, at Hickum Field, Pearl Harbor,
His campaign hat cocked and jaunty,
Behind his fifty caliber machine gun in nineteen forty;
My Aunt Molly’s button from the Garment Workers’ Union,
Her picture taken in 1911 during the strikes
As she marches arm in arm with the other women;
My Grandfather’s copy of Huckleberry Finn and his English dictionary;
My mother’s copy of Edna St. Vincent Millay
That she saved her pennies to buy in 1936.
No moles and sweet tamales,
But maybe varnishkes with kasha and potato latkas.
No mescal but maybe some schnapps or some Cherry Kijafa.
After they’ve eaten they will look for me
To leave their good will and their blessings.
Juana, you won’t remember the gavacho
Who watched you by the freeway and wished you well.
Who saw his grandparents in your place
Who saw his Luftmenschen sewing in a maquiladora
Instead of the sweatshops of New York in 1911,
Who had the audacity to imagine you dancing
With a necklace of sugar skulls and marigolds,
And then another of raisins and almonds.
Forgive him his audacity,
Hijo de la gente del aire.
Son of the People Of The Air.
He comes by it honestly, and he means no harm.
He too is a luftmensch,
Another noodle-headed dreamer.
Guelaguetza: a Zapotec offering, a gift to share or reciprocate.
Gavacho: Caucasian- American
varnishkes mit kasha and potato latkas: Bow-tie noodles, bulgar wheat and potato pancakes.
Maquiladora: sweat shop
Guelaguetza I was first published in In Our Own Words, Fall 2004.