by Lorna Dee Cervantes
I first read this poem in the early 90’s as a college student at Stanford. I’d take the 280 south to San José, then hop on the 101 to get home to Soledad. Back then it reminded me of a specific area of San José. I now know the area to be the Washington-Guadalupe and the Spartan-Keyes Neighborhoods. The plants under the 280 still grow lush and green after rainfalls. I have spotted women near the freeway picking verdolagas (purslane) to take home and make with mole. Flowering fruit trees can be seen from the freeway in yards. The 280 is the freeway I still take to get home – to San José.
Human Resources Manager
Las casitas near the gray cannery,
nestled amid wild abrazos of climbing roses
and man-high red geraniums
are gone now.The freeway conceals it
all beneath a raised scar.
But under the fake windsounds of the open lanes,
in the abandoned lots below, new grasses sprout,
wild mustard remembers, old gardens
come back stronger than they were,
trees have been left standing in their yards.
Albaricoqueros, cerezos, nogales . . .
Viejitas come here with paper bags to gather greens.
Espinaca, verdolagas, yerbabuena . . .
I scramble over the wire fence
that would have kept me out.
Once, I wanted out, wanted the rigid lanes
to take me to a place without sun,
without the smell of tomatoes burning
on swing shift in the greasy summer air.
Maybe it’s here
en los campos extraños de esta ciudad
where I’ll find it, that part of me
like a corpse
or a loose seed.