Friday Poem

Frederico’s Ghost

The story is
that whole families of fruitpickers
still crept between the furrows
of the field at dusk,
when for reasons of whisky or whatever
the cropduster plane sprayed anyway,
floating a pesticide drizzle
over the pickers
who thrashed like dark birds
in a glistening white net,
except for Frederico,
a skinny boy who stood apart
in his own green row,
and, knowing the pilot
would not understand in Spanish
that he was the son of a whore,
instead jerked his arm
and thrust an obscene finger.

The pilot understood.
He circled the plane and sprayed again,
watch a fine gauze of poison
drift over the brown bodies
that cowered and scurried on the ground,
and aiming for Frederico,
leaving the skin beneath his shirt
wet and blistered,
but still pumping his finger at the sky.

After Frederico died,
rumors at the labor camp
told of tomatoes picked and smashed at night,
growers murmuring of vandal children
or communists in camp,
first threatening to call Immigration,
then promising every Sunday off
if only the smashing of tomatoes would stop.

Still tomatoes were picked and squashed
in the dark,
and the old women in camp
said it was Frederico,
laboring after sundown
to cool the burns on his arms,
flinging tomatoes
at the cropduster
that hummed like a mosquito
lost in his ear,
and kept his soul awake.

by Martin Espada
from After Atzlan
publisher, David Godine, 1992