“Soto” by Gil Arzola

Gil Arzola


Old Mexican Soto was born with a gift for staying poor. At the end of every day he would be two hundred feet behind me in the mint fields where we worked with thirty others pulling weeds. It was 1965 and weeding was a job for Mexicans and hillbillies who arrived every morning in a discarded school bus that was too old for hauling the hopes of schoolchildren but capable enough to take us from field to endless field. Mexican women wearing straw hats gossiped—young men whose youth still covered them like the sweat on their backs—dreamt. Every morning, as if no bird could begin its singing, as if no sun would rise without us, we began together. When the clouds were still low and when the sun had just begun to melt the dew, we grabbed our hoes and picked a row as silently as sinners choosing a pew. Minding our chores and minding our own business, we dispatched the weeds and volunteers like unwelcomed guests. Always beginning together, by ten o’clock Old Mexican Soto was only a shadow behind me. When I turned, he was something brown against the green mint, and his hair was as black as the dirt between rows. Sometimes he’d stand and pull a red handkerchief from his back pocket, and with great ceremony he’d wipe his brow like he was erasing mistakes from a chalkboard. The handkerchief the only part of him colored bright. The rest was brown and shades of that. Soto was round like a barrel, his brown skin worn like old leather, his chin coming to a point at the bottom of his long face. That’s all I remember. Two hundred feet behind me Old Mexican Soto was still in the fields when I left. Born with a gift for staying poor and dreaming of payday Fridays, cold beer and quitting time, he stayed.

from The Death of a Migrant Worker
2021 Rattle Chapbook Prize Winner


Gil Arzola: “The Death of a Migrant Worker is a gift and monument of words to my parents. It is a way of saying ‘these people passed through this way’ and here’s what they did.”

Rattle Logo