A poem by Indiana writer Gilbert Arzola, from his book Prayers of Little Consequence, published by Passager Books in 2020. Meet Arzola in a short video interview.
Gilbert Arzola says he was one generation removed from the back of a migrant truck. He grew up in Indiana, where his family was one of three Mexican American families in an otherwise white community. Now that he’s retired, he writes poetry, fiction, and essays. He also coaches the local high school’s girls softball team. In fact, he’s written a book about fast-pitch softball.
Arzola won the 2019 Passager Poetry Contest and subsequently, Passager published his book of poems Prayers of Little Consequence.
Here from that book is Gilbert Arzola’s poem “In the Fields.”
There was work to do so the Mexicans came. In 1964
I was twelve and it was Mexicans and poor white kids
in soiled shirts and torn blue jeans that pulled at weeds
like they were yanking at ropes. They made piles of things
and moved the pipes to irrigate the fields. The days were
hotter then and lasted longer. By midday the cool night
and morning dew melted away like butter left on kitchen
tables. We stood things then. We stood the heat and being
hungry. We stood the vacant stares of passengers in cars
passing by headed to town. We stood the pain in our
shoulders that you couldn’t wish away. We stood things not
because we were brave or strong but because there was no
choice. Sometimes if it hadn’t rained for days, the dust rose
with each breeze and each step and covered your arms like
a thin sheet and wrapped around your neck as if the hands
of god were choking you. It itched like a thousand insect
bites. But you didn’t scratch the itch. The old ones told you
when you came into the fields that scratching only made it
worse. It was best just to stand it.
. . .
Isn’t that a great metaphor at the end for not only being,
but being perceived as a poor farm worker?
“It itched like a thousand insect bites.
But you didn’t scratch the itch.
The old ones told you when you came into the fields
that scratching only made it worse.
It was best just to stand it.”
To buy Gilbert Arzola’s book Prayers of Little Consequence or learn more about Passager and its commitment to writers over 50, go to passagerbooks.com
This audio cast was made possible, in part, by a grant from the Maryland State Arts Council.