Belle Glade (Grant Givers)

17 Dec

We cut through the humid air and the mid-afternoon sun,
fields of sugarcane rushing by quickly on either side.
The harvested earth is black and slightly wet.
Someone asks why.
We’re in the Everglades, comes the answer, and it seems to satisfy.
Nothing human runs out here, just giant steel towers with power lines ceding a bit of altitude down the middle.

On the horizon, a sign of humanity: dirty fingerprints of industry.
Giant smokestacks pump black clouds onto the blue canvas-like sky.
A sugarcane refinery, comes the explanation, and it seems to satisfy.

We forge through the green, flat fields like a sharp machete,
moving toward nothing—there is a town here somewhere, but it’s hiding; crouching low in the bush.
I look through the smudgy window at the young cane; out of focus;
the schizophrenic weather is keeping the harvesters away from the fields.
It’s been raining and sunny and sunny and raining, and the workers have decided to give up.
Just one lone dark-skinned man in a baseball hat and dungarees
is trudging through the snapped, wet cane on the edge of a field.
We pass him going fast, he looks, takes his hat off, and waves.
I put a hand on the glass too late to be noticed.
Everyone is snoozing in that comfortable, content way of kings and queens on an air-conditioned shuttle.

We come to a crossroads and we take a sharp left.
Here, too, in the middle of nowhere they have a Martin Luther King Boulevard.
It’s a name which brings comfort.
Even down here, on this weird side of the planet, the Preacher is alive.
His energy passes through the destitute.
It’s in their eyes, on their sun burnt faces, in their leathery hands.
It’s all out in the decrepit streets, the dilapidated buildings. Vacant lots.

There are home made signs spray painted on the crusty facades:
”Junior’s Barbershop,” “Authentic Uniforms, Inc.,” “Maya’s Hair Salon,”
but there is no one inside.
The places are locked.
The lights are off.
There are scores of men sitting on chairs in the streets, or on curbs.
They are mostly old and battered (the men and the streets), but they smile and wave
at the bus.
They raise their hats and arms, and almost everybody around me, inside, thinks
this is lovely and nice.
They see the spirit, but they don’t recognize the conditions under which it survives.
This is how comfortable people always think.

“We can’t keep our young ones; they leave for school or for the coast, looking for work,
and they never come back.
We need our young people; we need them for the community.”

Everyone nods sympathetically with glassy-eyed stares.

“Ain’t no one left here except us old folks, we need our children here.
We gonna build a movie theatre next year maybe; if the money comes through.
We gonna try to bring our kids back…”

We slither through the streets of this town, through the tenements and small trailers,
clothes drying in the sun on yellow ropes,
the men in the streets all stand up with inquisitive, kind faces
and most on this bus wave back, smiling, unashamed.
They do not realize that this is our own creation, our fault, and therefore
our responsibility.
They just wave back with joy.

This town is an oasis in reverse.
It sits in the middle of one of the richest counties in the South;
it gets no help, no money, no business, and still they plead:
don’t bring us the catch, just teach us how to fish, teach us how to bait, teach us how to cast.
Everybody’s leaving and they ain’t coming back.

More sympathetic nods and smiles and everything is beautiful,
isn’t it.
“The energy…the energy these people have, isn’t it lovely?”
Well, isn’t it?

And everything flies over everybody’s head
as they wait to get back to their hotels and suddenly, quickly, nothing matters;
not the sugarcane, not the harvest, not the people.

The bus leaves this town behind quickly.
We head East, toward the ocean again, toward mainstream.
Everything is forgotten.
Two women are talking about their past surgeries, their retirement funds,
how they’re losing money in the market,
interior decorating.
Some have fallen asleep, heads on the windows.

We cut quickly through the wet marsh, through the Everglades,
speeding toward the water, running against the sun, against all reason.
We leave this forgotten town behind.
We leave its people filled with hope and business cards.

“Come back next year,
we gonna have the movies playin’ for y’all.
God bless y’all.”


3 Responses to “Belle Glade (Grant Givers)”

  1. Geoff 17/12/2008 at 2:46 PM #

    I sure would like to come back for the movies.

    I feel that I know this place. I feel that there are too many of these places.

    But the people who remain — they carry the heart of everything with them, until the day they die. And even then, the heart of a place doesn’t die with them. It continues on, because next year — there’s going to be a picture show, and we all sure would like to come back for the movies.

    I feel I know this place, and sometimes it hurts, but other times, it makes me smile.

    Like — “okay, yes, sure would enjoy that, yes, thank you.”

    Thank you, Alex.

  2. momentofchoice 17/12/2008 at 11:33 PM #


  3. (S)wine 18/12/2008 at 9:40 AM #

    Thanks. Interesting to note is the other side of the fence, the people who are not willing to migrate because of some sort of skewed sense of “home” or “family.” It’s something we saw during the Great Depression–constant migration–but nowadays it’s as if people are unable or un-willing to uproot. Anyway, this opens up a brand new social discussion, one that I’m not willing to explore too much on this site. Maybe on S.E.I. And this piece lets you make up your own mind about the state of things and people’s willingness or un-willingness to move/uproot and start over somewhere else.

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