Musings from an Invisible Man

The Stories of Rubén Dozal

photograph by Paul Myers


Who is Rubén Dozal?
by Joe Rodríguez

Strange Noise

Hey, don't hit him anymore! Can't you see that he cannot defend himself anymore and he is hurt.

Keep quiet, old man, if you know what's good for you. The old man just lowers his head and keeps walking, for there are so many of them by count, six or eight, and all young compared to his age.

So he continues on his way when all of a sudden a screeching noise occurs, not like any other heard before.

As they turn around, one falls down, then the other, but they do not see anybody. And as they come forward, another one falls, never to get up again. Three stand alone and not too brave now, for the look of fright has taken over their bewildered faces.

As they take another step towards their friends, one more hits the ground, not moving at all.

Now there are two left when a chilling voice yells out a mournful sound: Come here, young man, come here. They look at each other and look down at the man they had beaten to death, with no trace of what happened to the body. And when they see this, it is too late.

No one knows what happened, but there is one thing for sure: that strange noise is still heard now and then in the middle of the night.


Tractor Driver

What if I was to tell you that when I started school I did not know how to talk very good English? Or what if I told you that school was not preparing me for work after high school? You would probably say, yeah right. But that’s what happened to me.

I learned how to read and to know the meanings of words by looking at old movies on the television. I also learned a lot of the words that I was trying to learn in school. I also learned how to listen very carefully to people, because I was deeply embarrassed that I did not understand what they were telling me at all, especially when they used big words or words that I did not understand.

Please do not misunderstand me. School is a wonderful and precious thing to have, but at that stage of my life, it was not doing the job for me.

I learned the many things that I know how to do by working at them very hard.

Like in the beginning when I started working in the fields and the foreman asked me if I knew how to drive a tractor, and of course I said yes.

So he said "Okay, start it up and take it to the other field"

"Okay," I answered him. But when he left I got on it and started pushing buttons and switches that I thought would start it up. No luck.

Then I saw a button that I had not tried yet and when I pushed it down the tractor was in gear and half-throttle, so it jumped up like a horse out of the gate. The only thing that kept me from falling off was the steering wheel, which I grabbed and held tight until I turned it off. By this time I had jumped all over the tomato field, which was not a good thing to do, especially if you are trying to impress your boss.

After all that jumping around I got to make it to the field. Then the fun really started. The boss told the other worker to hook up the trailer and take it to the other field, but the problem was that I did not have a clue as to what he was talking about. So between the both of us, we hooked up the trailer: there, that was not so bad! But on the way, something went wrong, because somehow I lost the trailer and the pipe on the trailer. Not only that, I also lost the man who helped me. Somehow the pin came off the trailer's hookup and the trailer took off by itself over the rows of tomatoes in the next field. Thank God that I was not going too fast. The look on the other man's face was very scary because I thought that he was going to kill me. Instead, we both broke out laughing. Then he said "You never have driven a tractor before, ha!"

All I said was, "How can you tell?"

© 2000 El Andar Magazine


Rubén Dozal is a wonderful writer who breaks all the rules, but it's not because he means to.If his poetry reads like prose, it's because he never learned the difference. If his prose reads like drama, well, he doesn't know why. He's never read a play. In fact, he's never read a book cover to cover. Not one.

Rubén Dozal is the poet laureate of illiteracy.
He was barely five years old when he and his undocumented farmworker mother were deported from California to Mexico, where he never attended school. By the time they returned he was hopelessly behind in elementary school. He did what many illiterate students do, he faked it and graduated from high school with a third-grade reading ability.

About two years ago, after marriage, children, grandchildren and a near lifetime picking crops and driving trucks — he began to write. He figures he's written about 300 "stories."
That's what he calls them, stories, but they’re not traditional short stories at all.

His writings are impossible to categorize because, without knowing it, he mixes the elements of various genres in each one. There's narrative, dramatic dialog, poetry and even parable.

His writings are vignettes, or poetic musings on life from an invisible man.

His two main themes are hard work and family, and he writes them with tender humor and touching irony. For a man's who's worked so hard with his hands and was cheated of a proper education, he writes without an ounce of anger. He is a raw, natural talent.

Rubén Dozal is a foreman at a chemical plant in Hollister, Calif., where he lives with his wife. He is enrolled in a literacy program run by Santa Clara County, California.

Joe Rodríguez is a columnist for the San José Mercury News.