Joel Whitney at the Poetry Foundation:
During the mad rush of leaving, they had to find homes for 60 animals, a menagerie of horses, snakes, turtles, and various other creatures. Only two made the cut to tag along with them: their blue budgie parakeet, Bird, who went eerily still as they crossed the Sonoran Desert, and their Doberman, Kinch, who panted in the scorching heat.
Traveling with their 10-year-old daughter Linda and their friend Raf in a red Dodge, George and Mary Oppen fled Redondo Beach, California, on June 11, 1950. They were in flight from the FBI. Special agents had visited their house days earlier to ask about the Oppens’ relief work during the Depression, and about a former roommate now suspected of espionage. Nationally, it was a tense time. North and South Korea would clash two weeks later, launching another war. Dissent was unpatriotic; a person’s past could send them to prison. Case in point: The Oppens’ friend Dalton Trumbo, a screenwriter who was blacklisted after he testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee, spent most of that year in a Kentucky prison for contempt of Congress. Having worked with the Communist Party USA during the Depression, the Oppens knew they were considered enemies of the state. They headed toward Tucson, and to the border beyond. They spent the next decade in Mexico City, under constant surveillance. They called themselves political refugees.
George famously stopped writing during this period. His silence lasted 25 years.