Down the Road

The tiny mother leaves a day care job
it took her years to train for. 
In Berkeley it paid her minimum wage.

What will South Carolina offer,
the deep south, where most waitresses
make less than minimum wage
and tips are next to non-existent?

Not long ago, her husband put his fist
through a wall, then left the family
to cut up chickens in a Fresno factory.
He rises at dawn six days a week.
Their daughter Stephanie begged to use
my phone to call him, sure his leaving
was all her fault.

As I gather the last summer roses,
the Laotian grandparents, mother
and five children ride away in a red van,
on their way to work in furniture factories
in South Carolina. Grandfather will no longer
walk the dog across the street, gathering cans
and water bottles for recycling as he goes.

In South Carolina, they again form
the lost tribes of Laos. The elders begin
to teach boys to write Chinese characters.
Beside factory housing, Grandmother
again plants a vegetable garden
able to defeat all weeds. Green hills
remind them of the old country.

Kimberly will no longer ring my bell
to ask if we can bake cookies today.
Steven will race his bike on dirt roads.
Stacy, finishing sixth grade, will soon be married.
Michael will be lost in the silence he carries
with him already, and Stephanie will learn
to tell the world to fuck off.

—Trina Gaynon, Huntington Beach, CA