Tuesday, September 28, 2010

After Tomato Picking by Maria Garcia Teutsch

In fourth grade
I picked tomatoes
to make money.

The night before, we packed
our lunches with anticipation
and American cheese sandwiches.

We left at dawn with the sun
slithering across the desert,
twisting the horizon into slivers of gold.

The drive out to the farmland
was filled with yawns and coffee.
I leaned against my brother and dozed.

On our way we passed farm workers,
their painted signs blurring by.
I catch one word, strike.

My brother yells, Viva la Raza
but don't yet know what it means.
He raises his chin and smiles.

In the field the smell
of disturbed earth and sweat mingles
with the sound of giggles

from my sister's friends.
I stand in between rows,
a bucket full of green tomatoes

too heavy to lift, my brother
carrying it to men sitting
in precious shade.

We left as soon as the thermometer
moved above 100.
The others stayed.

This poem is a true account of Maria Garcia Teutsch's short time she spent working in the fields. Maria currently teaches in Salina, California, in the US. This area is commonly known as the 'salad bowl of America' and many of her students have long histories of field work. Plenty of them have parents who make their living in the fields. This poem has emerged from her inspiration and humble appreciation of their daily work. For me, as this weeks editor, I was immediately drawn to this poem of Maria's as it possesses such a strong grounding in the landscape. The social conditions intertwined with the act of 'tomato picking' appears to emanate naturally and effortlessly from this powerful and nostalgic evocation of the journey and the landscape.

Maria Garcia Teutsch is editor-in-chief of Ping Pong Journal of Art and Literature published by the Henry Miller Memorial Library in Big Sur, California. She teaches poetry and creative writing at Hartnell College in Salinas, California. This is also where she edits the Homestead Review which is now in its 10th year of publication.

For more words, visit her blog: mariateutsch.blogspot.com or her webpage: marialoveswords.com

This week's editor is Elizabeth Welsh, an Auckland writer and Katherine Mansfield scholar. Her blog is here. And remember to visit the live blog roll in the Tuesday Poem sidebar for more Tuesday Poems.


melissashook said...

Thank you. This is really interesting in the plain spoken language and the social implications.
I'll look up her blog.

Helen Lowe said...

Elizabeth, I too enjoyed the groundedness and simplicity of this poem, which nonetheless illuminates the existence of larger social issues in a 'less is more' way.

John B said...

No one seems to have said it yet - I guess that the two comments above are obliquely referring to it, but I think that the poet is an unwitting strike-breaker. Her brother has some inkling, or knows but presumably doesn't care. I think "Viva ra raza" means "long live the people" - maybe a bit of a joke to the brother. Theyr'e dilettantes in the end - thermometer reaches 100 and off they go. Not so for the real workers.
Pardon me if I'm stating the obvious, but there are more layers here than Elizabeth seems to be mentioning.
Really like the poem

John B said...

Whoops - I think I got it wrong. "Maria Garcia" - guess she's the real deal (got distracted by the surname...). She's just a kid and it's so damn hot. "Dilettante" - did I really call a kid who works at 99 degrees that? I hand my head in figurative shame. Bit hard for a Kiwi to know exactly what's happening here.
Got me thinking and engaging with the whole thing.

Unknown said...

Wonderful imagery.

Maria Garcia Teutsch said...

I love all the comments. Yes, the strike breaker thing is present, but it is the grape picker's strike, not tomatoes.
We did leave, we picked for fun, guess that's the point of the piece. So many people depend on this labor to feed their families and here we are, interlopers as it were.
I am half Mexican and feel a deep kindred with the farmworkers. Each day as I drive to work in Salinas I see people working the fields. Some are my student's parents, some were my students.
Thank you for taking the time to comment on my poem.