Modesta Avila

 
 

Modesta Avila
     First felon of Orange County – 1889

Thin columns of rising smoke
trace the mesh of railroad racks
out across the scrub and farms
of the ranchos of Southern California.

Stubby black engines pulling
cattle hides and oranges
spurt rhythmic blasts of exhausted steam
and startle the jackrabbits

in a mundane daily working way,
as if the sleepy donkey carts
of the land-rich Californios
had last rolled centuries ago.

Modesta’s teenage eyes flare out,
steady in the booking photo;
her crime       she dared to string her laundry
across the Southern Pacific tracks,

an eighteen year old       Mexican,
upturned by the shifting tide,
tired of the incessant grunt
of indifferent locomotives

sealing her childhood beneath the rails,
unable to see a world beyond,
a woman knowing no way to stop
the hard steel wheels of the passing trains,

willing to lose the sunsets
glowing orange in the ocean air,
or trade the sight of butterflies
drifting from fresh spring grass,

or       rage welling in her neck,
nothing more than wanting,
wanting just one chance to say
this land        it was my father’s.

Frank Kearns 2014

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