We’re Oakies and Proud
by Sylvia Riojas Vaughn

We Joads swung
into California
to pick fruit, cotton.
I’m bone tired,
no time for tears.
The local folks
don’t care for us,
but I have a family
to feed, one pregnant.
Unholy red dust clouds
buried our crops,
our pastures.
Blinding, suffocating -−
a peek into our graves.
The bank took our farm.
We packed pots,
pans, blankets
into our old truck.
The old folks,
my son Tom,
and the rest of us
squeezed in,
close as kernels
on a corncob.
Before we left,
I laid my earbobs
against my cheeks,
admired them
in the mirror.
I remembered the dance
when my husband,
daring to dip me low, said,
By golly, Mrs. Joad,
you’re stronger
than any diamond.
My smile faded
under the weight
of the unknown.

PHOTOS: (left) the author Plano, Texas, about 11 years ago; (right) Jane Darwell in The Grapes of Wrath (1940).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Ma Joad has been a symbol of strength and optimism for me ever since I read The Grapes of Wrath and saw the movie. Jane Darwell, who played Ma Joad in the movie, will always be the face of Ma Joad for me. Strong, loving, no-nonsense, not even hunger could strip her of her humanity and goodwill. I wanted to capture the intimate moment in the movie when she said goodbye to her home, burning small treasures and pocketing others in her apron, including some shiny earrings.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Sylvia Riojas Vaughn lives in Plano, Texas. Both her parents were children during the Great Depression, and she grew up listening to their tales of hardship and the will to survive. Her poems have appeared in The Great Gatsby Anthology, Silver Birch Press; Triadæ, Lifting the Sky: Southwestern Haiku & Haiga, Texas Poetry Calendar, HOUSEBOAT, Red River Review, The Applicant, Diálogo, Label Me Latina/o, Somos en escrito: The Latino literary online magazine, Desde Hong Kong: Poets in conversation with Octavio Paz, and numerous other anthologies and journals. She has been selected as a Houston Poetry Fest Juried Poet three times. A Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee, she belongs to the Dallas Poets Community.