Women of the Fields
for Dolores Huerta, UFW co-founder
who declared herself a born again feminist at 83
The women of the fields clip red bunches of grapes
in patches of neatly tilled farmland in the San Joaquin,
clip sweet globes they can no longer stand to taste—
just twenty miles shy of Santa Cruz beach babies
in thongs, Pleasure Beach surfers on longboards,
all the cool convertibles speeding Cabrillo Highway
as women line as pickers, back bent over summer’s harvest.
The campesinas labor without shade tents or water buffalos,
shrouded in oversized shirts and baggy work pants, disguised
as what they are not, faces masked in bandanas under cowboy hats
in fils de calzón—
the young one named Ester taken in the onion patch
with the field boss' gardening shears at her throat
the older one named Felicia isolated in an almond orchard
and pushed down into a doghouse. The pretty one, Linda,
without work papers, asked to bear a son in trade
for a room and a job in the pumpkin patch,
Isabel, ravaged napping under a tree at the end of a dream
after a morning picking pomegranates,violación de un sueño.
Salome on the apple ranch forced up against the fence
as the boss bellowed his ecstatic Dios Mio.
The promotoras, flex muscle in words, steal off into night
to meet face-to-face to talk health care, pesticides, heatstroke, rape,
meet to tally accounts—forced to exchange panties for paychecks
in orchards, on ranches, in fields, in truck beds—to speak out to face
joblessness and deportation to an old country, a new foreign soil.
Women of the fields, like those who came before them, like those
who will trail after—las Chinas, Japonesas, Filipinas—
to slave for frozen food empires in pesticide drift,
residue crawling along the skin, creeping into nostrils
and pregnancies it ends as they hide from La Migra
in vines soaked in toxins or crawl through sewer tunnels,
across railroad tracks, through fences to pick strawberries,
for this, this: la fruta del diablo.
—first appeared in Thomas Merton Center’s The New People (2014)
and appears in the book by the author Landings (Kelsea Books 2017)