Parents, fellow competitors, and judges sat rapt in the Seaside Community Center as tiny Florencia Gregorio of Alisal High School filled the room with a soul-felt rendition of “Bent to the Earth,” a poem by Blas Manuel De Luna about a van full of Mexican field workers stopped by immigration officers. She will represent Monterey County at the State level, where others from Monterey County have triumphed in years past and gone on to the national level in Washington, DC. Florencia also recited “To the Desert” by Benjamin Alire Saenz.
Her team mate, Christian Quiroz, a runner-up, was a show-stopper with “El Olvido” by Judith Ortiz Cafer, a piece about forgetting one’s cultural identity in an effort to fit in.
Pacific Grove’s Parker Staples chose “The Redeemer” by Siegried Sassoon as her first piece and followed it up with “Little Girl,” a poem by Tami Haaland about a child captured in a photograph. It portends,
Bent to the Earth
They had hit Ruben
with the high beams, had blinded
him so that the van
he was driving, full of Mexicans
going to pick tomatoes,
would have to stop. Ruben spun
the van into an irrigation ditch,
spun the five-year-old me awake
to immigration officers,
their batons already out,
already looking for the soft spots on the body,
to my mother being handcuffed
and dragged to a van, to my father
trying to show them our green cards.
They let us go. But Alvaro
was going back.
So was his brother Fernando.
So was their sister Sonia. Their mother
did not escape,
and so was going back. Their father
was somewhere in the field,
and was free. There were no great truths
revealed to me then. No wisdom
given to me by anyone. I was a child
who had seen what a piece of polished wood
could do to a face, who had seen his father
about to lose the one he loved, who had lost
some friends who would never return,
who, later that morning, bent
to the earth and went to work.
“Bent to the Earth” by Blas Manuel De Luna. From Bent to the Earth, © 2006 by Blas Manuel De Luna, published by Carnegie Mellon University Press.