“Aching Knees in Palm Springs” by John Olivares Espinoza

John Olivares Espinoza


My brother, Albert, and I,
Spent one Thursday of our Winter break,
Plucking patches of grass
From four beds of Petunias of a condominium—
A one story stucco block in beige,
For those with money in their palms and time on their hands.
We spent these “vacations”
Shivering—raking, trimming, and mowing,
Frozen gardens with Dad.
At the eighth hour, the weight on my knees
Was too much to continue,
Kneeling and picking. So every time I pulled
Out a fistful of grass,
I stood up tall, and stretched. When Dad
Noticed my squatting and the weeds
Slowly filling the trash can, he said to me,
“You’re packing down the dirt,
Kneel on the lawn and weed the beds from there.”
And I told him,
“I’ve been bent down since nine this morning,
I am at least entitled to a stretch …”

I kept the truth from
Slipping from my lips. How I didn’t care
About dirt and weeds, from a garden
Of a bourgeoisie who raked in more hundred dollar bills
Than I did citrus leaves.
I wanted to tell Dad how these men didn’t care
If Mexicans spent nine or ten hours—
A lifetime—bent as old limbs of lemon wood
Weeding out grass, next to the same bed
The following week. I wanted to
Tell him about the hours, how I felt wasted
When we could’ve rested our sore spines
On a bed and drown in the lake
Of a much deserved sleep.
Or sail through Tierra del Fuego,
Standing on the deck and never bowing,
Not even to the sun.
Or how he could’ve learned to read,
And I’d finally show him
A poem I wrote. But I didn’t.
Because I knew what he would say—“It’s the only way
To put you through school—this oily sweat.”

I kept my tongue hidden
Behind my teeth, and watched my younger brother
Hunched over, tossing weeds and his youth
Inside a green plastic can without a word.

from Rattle #12, Winter 1999
Tribute to Latino & Chicano Poets


“John Olivares Espinoza: “I spent my weekends and vacations working in gardens with my father and brothers. Not only do I use my voice to speak out for what I experienced, but also for those who have it worse. I might complain about scraping the dog poop from under my lawn mower, but there are people who lose their fingers doing it. One other thing, those wealthy men that live in country clubs are rich because the cheap bastards refuse to pay the gardener after services rendered. This is what drives me to write poetry.” (web)

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