YES, IN 1952 WHITE TEACHERS MADE THEIR STUDENTS STAND UP
AND TELL THE CLASS WHAT THEIR FATHERS DID FOR A LIVING
My name is José. The school says Joe.
My father works for General Motors
which means I am brown, which means no one will look at me
when I say, my name is José.
My father sees at night as an owl, all feathers
the color of ash and night.
See how the moon light speckles him.
Hear his beak crack a bottle cap.
One for la luna. One for la lucha.
My father flaps his wings over iron
cooling it from 2,000 degrees his talons sparkle like diamonds,
like gold teeth, like morning on the twisted mouths of the tulips
that weep in Spanish, the language my father saves for himself
when he tosses us out like newly feathered birds who stutter over English
like air and breath. I am the son of an owl.
I coo myself to sleep until the screen door catches my father’s work boot
and I hear him hoot, “mi’ijo I have brought you home the sun.”
No one asks what he left that was worse
than being dragged, unconscious from the Plant.
To whom did the foreman say,
“if he’s alive, he can come back to work.”
No one was there when he woke, wiped the ash
from his skin and reformed the crease in his fedora.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: What I wanted to do was change this moment for my father. It is painful for me to picture him being made fun of, being made to feel less than. I wanted to write this as a speech for him, so he could stand up, be proud of his brown skin and of his father. What his father did to provide for the family was hard, unfathomable work. It was so hot, next to the iron in the foundry, that one’s skin could blister and burn. These men who did this work were heroes. They need to be respected and remembered for taking all the shit jobs that the white people wouldn’t do.