Day 29 in
Delano for Cesar
(for Cesar Chavez)
The church is empty.
Silent pews of shining wood
reflect the mid-afternoon light
of stained-glass window.
Candles flicker on the altar.
Some have burned out.
Have they been burning for you,
Cesar, as you lie weak in your bed,
your fast to focus attention
on our poisoned food,
now almost a month old?
I search for people---where is he now?
The rectory door, behind the
closely trimmed hedge,
is locked. I start my car.
In town, at a Mexican restaurant
(where I stuff my face),
I learn that he is at his compound,
weak, sick, thin.
I follow directions
and make my way west of town
to the media tent.
Jesse Jackson has come and gone
after holding court---a photo opportunist
seeking out another handshake.
The communion to break the fast
is cancelled for now
and I wade amid the castoff
paper cups and torn banners
scattered in the wind.
We too are scattered, Cesar.
The food we eat does not nourish.
The air we breathe grits the throat.
And the water is bitter with the chemicals
that bring your tears.
You are right, Cesar, but we laugh you off
as a relic of the past;
a Sixties fad now given over
to the widows---
and the mothers of deformed children.
I leave and search the fields for the road
that will lead me in the right direction.
The signs are confusing. I start my fast.
by Phill Courtney
In August of 1988, Courtney was traveling in central
California when Cesar Chavez, the famous non-violent
activist and long-time president of the United Farm
Workers Union, was in the 29th day of his fast to call
attention to the use of pesticides on grapes. Courtney
went to Delano, the site of Chavez's headquarters, on
the day he was to have broken his fast.