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High Noon, Oaxaca

Cute Kitten Images

First published in Spanish in February 2004 in La Jornada, a daily newspaper in Mexico City, this poem appears in the forthcoming collection, Writing Across the Landscape (Liveright, September 2015). It appears here for the first time in English.

A las cuatro y a las cinco de la mañana
    They are getting up and into the backs of old trucks
    And heading into the city of Oaxaca
    From all over the state of Oaxaca
    They are standing up in the back of the trucks
    Packed in perhaps twenty men and women
    Standing up in the jolting trucks
A las siete de la mañana
    They are all on the back roads heading for the city of Oaxaca
    From all over the state of Oaxaca
    They are silent as the trucks jolt along
    Standing erect in the trucks with the high wooden sides
    The men in their white stiff straw hats curled up at the edges
    The men in the clothes they wear on Sundays or días de fiesta
    The same clothes they wear on work days
    Only the women are dressed up
    Women in their best colorful costumes
    In their beautiful colored dresses
    red or ochre like the earth
    For they are of the earth they are made of earth
    They are the mothers of the small brown people
    the women of the brown people packed in the trucks
    The abuelas y abuelitas
    Hermanas y hijas y tías
    They are the mothers and sisters and aunts and daughters
    Of the short brown obreros and campesinos
    Standing in the jolting trucks in the back roads
    All over the state of Oaxaca
A las nueve de la mañana
    They are on the first paved roads leading into the city of Oaxaca
    Then they are on the two-lane highways to the city of Oaxaca
    Standing silent in the open trucks
    In their work trucks and in beat-up buses
    Converging on the city of Oaxaca from all over the state of Oaxaca
    With its sixty percent unemployment
    They are the working men and women of the Unidad Popular
    And there are banners on the sides of some trucks and buses
    Proclaiming their solidarity and their hard resolve
    To change their world for the better
    To change their lives for the better
    The lives of the pobres everywhere
    Their deep resolve to liberate themselves
    From centuries of stoop work for others
    For the owners of everything
    The campos and haciendas
    The mills and molinos
    The poor of the world in the liberation movements
    In all the Third World countries of the world
A las diez de la mañana
    They are entering the outskirts of the city
    They are passing through the barrios
    The broken-down barrios on the outskirts of the city
    On the periferia of the city of Oaxaca
    The undersides of the city that the turistas never see
    The junked-up outskirts of the machine shops and garages
    And tin-roofed factories and truck repair shops
    And Pemco filling stations
    They are the people of the Unidad Popular
    Heading for the center of the city of Oaxaca
    winding through all the side streets into the centro
A las once de la mañana
    They are all pouring into the Avenida de la Independencia
    They have parked their trucks in the side streets and piled out
    Into the Avenida de la Independencia
    And there they come
A las once de la mañana
    Here they come with a big brass band up front
    With tubas and trumpets and drums
    At the head or the forming columns of men and women
    Pouring in from the side streets
    Into the Avenida de la Independencia in the center of Oaxaca
    And first come all the women in straight lines in the street
    Striding or limping with solemn calm faces open faces
    Looking with their dark brown eyes
    At the ornate entrances and small elegant hotels
    And seeing the well dressed people watching
    From the sidewalks and doorways and windows
    And all walking slowly and silent in their red and ochre costumes
    The women of all ages so dignified
    Walking in front of their men their campesinos
    Who now also come totally silent walking quiet
    In long lines in their beat-up white hats
    And they too are proud of their stirring solidarity
    With the band up front blasting out their surging spirit
A las once de la mañana
    They are coming and coming
    Thousands and thousands of them
    pouring into the Avenida de la Independencia
    From all the side streets and far flung farms and haciendas
    the compañeras and compañeros
    Coming together here in the Unidad Popular
    And the men with their stolid faces
    Looking out silent with their black brown eyes
    Guarded and defiant in their silences
    As they come marching six abreast
    In endless lines of campesinos and their sisters and mothers
A las once de la mañana
    They are pouring into the huge plaza of the Zócalo
    At the center of the city of Oaxaca
    And they have no weapons at all
    No guns or knives or machetes
    They have left them all behind in their huts and palapas
    They have left their machetes stuck in the brown earth of their campos
A las once de la mañana
    They will know where to find their machetes if need be
    Another time a later time
    If they have not changed anything at a later time
    When perhaps nothing has changed in their eternal slavery
    And the Zócalo and the plaza in front of the Cathedral
    Is filling up with the thousands and thousands
    And in front of the Cathedral there are loudspeakers set up
    And the speeches are beginning
    The gritos of the leaders
    The cries of the labor leaders
    And the working people of the whole state of Oaxaca
    Are still packing into the plaza
And a las doce de la mañana
    The bells of the Cathedral that have been silent all the time
    As the silent workers poured into the plaza
    The cathedral bells now ring out
    Echoing across the plaza
    Across the Zócalo
    And through the city of Oaxaca
And a las doce de la mañana
    The speeches of the peasant leaders of the people
    Are raising their rough voices over the loudspeakers
    And the air vibrates with their hoarse cries
    While in the inner patio of the Hotel Monte Albán
    The real leaders of this day of solidarity
    The ones behind it all
    The Union leaders
    The políticos
    Are speaking in good Spanish to the press
    And to the television cameras trained on them
    In a corner of the huge hotel patio these real leaders
    Of this great manifestación
    In immaculate white shirts
    Are speaking straight into the television cameras
    These leaders with education and white shirts
    Are telling the press of Oaxaca and of all Mexico
    Exactly what their movimiento is all about
    While outside in the plaza the indigenous speakers
    Are still shouting over the speakers to the thousands and thousands
    Their somehow innocent tough voices
    Echoing against the Cathedral walls
    And they are the real compañeros of Flores Magón and of Zapata
    The descendants of Magón and Zapata crying out
    For more than the crust of their daily bread
    While the “insiders” inside the hotel
    The ones with their own agendas
    Are telling the world que pasa
    In their confrontation with the owners of everything
    They are moving the movimiento where they want it to move
    And they know how promises made in the plazas
    May be betrayed in the back country
Al mediodía de Oaxaca
Al mediodía de su vida
Al mediodía of the people of Oaxaca
At high noon in the life of the pobres of Oaxaca
In the heart of their blood and passion.