Note: It has come to my attention that the setting of this poem isn’t clear. It is set in CA, U.S.A. and the initial character is American, as are the protesters. The men standing outside the lumber yard are Mexicans looking for work. Thanks, Marilyn and Patti for letting me know that this was not clear.
His denims worn and torn, his hair unshorn,
he sat on a fruit crate near a stop sign
on an exit road just off the California interstate.
“Will work for food,” his sign said, so I stopped.
“Jump in,” I said, and he looked confused.
“I have a city lot taken over by castor beans,” I told him.
“I’ll give you a meal and ten bucks an hour to clear them.”
“Lady, that would take me a day or more,” he said.
“I can make more than that in a few hours, just sitting here.”
A week later I see him in a line of toughs
who line the street, holding signs and now and then
crossing the street to harass the Mexican laborers
in the parking lot outside the lumberyard.
“Illegals steal the jobs of good Americans,” their placards say,
while the littler, more brawny men stand silent,
not answering their jostlings and their shouts.
Once more, I pull up in front of him.
“So you’re ready to work?” I ask. “Jump in.”
I direct the question to the lot, and not one answers.
“So no one wants the job of cutting castor beans?” I ask.
This sparks a recognition, and he shifts and turns,
his attention suddenly captured by the man lighting a joint
behind, in the shadows of a shrub.
Still, not one answers, so I drive on to the parking lot.
When I ask the question again, thirteen hands shoot up.
I leave with a full back seat and when I turn into the street
not one picket sign is lifted. Every eye avoids my own.