Take this quiet woman, she has been standing before a polishing wheel for over three hours, and she lacks twenty minutes before she can take a lunch break. Is she a woman? Consider the arms as they press the long brass tube against the buffer, they are striated along the triceps, the three heads of which clearly show. Consider the fine dusting of dark down above the upper lip, and the beads of sweat that run from under the red kerchief across the brow and are wiped away with a blackening wrist band in one odd motion a child might make to say No! No! You must come closer to find out, you must hang your tie and jacket in one of the lockers in favor of a black smock, you must be prepared to spend shift after shift hauling off the metal trays of stock, bowing first, knees bent for a purchase, then lifting with a gasp, the first word of tenderness between the two of you, then you must bring new trays of dull unpolished tubes. You must feed her, as they say in the language of the place. Make no mistake, the place has a language, and if by some luck the power were cut, the wheel slowed to a stop so that you suddenly saw it was not a solid object but so many separate bristles forming in motion a perfect circle, she would turn to you and say, "Why?" Not the old why of why must I spend five nights a week? Just, "Why?" Even if by some magic you knew, you wouldn't dare speak for fear of her laughter, which now you have anyway as she places the five tapering fingers of her filthy hand on the arm of your white shirt to mark you for your own, now and forever.
Philip Levine - 1928-2015
We don't see the ocean, not ever, but in July and August when the worst heat seems to rise from the hard clay of this valley, you could be walking through a fig orchard when suddenly the wind cools and for a moment you get a whiff of salt, and in that moment you can almost believe something is waiting beyond the Pacheco Pass, something massive, irrational, and so powerful even the mountains that rise east of here have no word for it. You probably think I'm nuts saying the mountains have no word for ocean, but if you live here you begin to believe they know everything. They maintain that huge silence we think of as divine, a silence that grows in autumn when snow falls slowly between the pines and the wind dies to less than a whisper and you can barely catch your breath because you're thrilled and terrified. You have to remember this isn't your land. It belongs to no one, like the sea you once lived beside and thought was yours. Remember the small boats that bobbed out as the waves rode in, and the men who carved a living from it only to find themselves carved down to nothing. Now you say this is home, so go ahead, worship the mountains as they dissolve in dust, wait on the wind, catch a scent of salt, call it our life.