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Poetry from The Common

February 5, 2024

Narsiso Martinez. Paula, 2021. Ink, Gouache, charcoal, and acrylic on produce cardboard, 27 3/4 x 16 inches (70.5 x 40.6 cm). Image courtesy Narsiso Martinez and Charlie James Gallery. Photo © 2021 Yubo Dong

Part 1 of 3

Narsiso Martinez’s artwork honors the work done by immigrant labor to bring fresh fruits and vegetables to the homes of millions of Americans. Alongside that artwork, we are sharing a series of poems from the farmworker community. These poems were originally published by the literary magazine The Common, where they stood among a hundred pages filled with the stories, essays, poems, and artwork of immigrant agricultural workers. An online portfolio was also produced to accompany the print issue. The issue of The Common is available for purchase in the museum Shop.


By Lizbeth Luevano

Three portraits drawn inside cardboard boxes with background of gold
Narsiso Martinez. Unlimited Edition, 2023. Triptych: ink, charcoal, and Simple Leaf on berry boxes, each 10 x 15 x 4.5 inches (25.4 x 38.1 x 11.4 cm). Image courtesy Narsiso Martinez and Charlie James Gallery. Photo © 2023 Spike Mafford

in the coachella valley
children go to school and learn how to internalize silence
girls sit pretty with pigtails wrapped in bubble-ball hair ties
learn how to cast their eyes downward
so that when they ask the class what do you want to be when you grow up?
boys respond, i want to work in the fields like my dad
make a hundred a week
enough of this school
of these confined walls
in the fields at least
i’ll finally find my ground

in the coachella valley
children know violence before they know stability
can see it in their mothers and fathers who
wash their feet with vinegar
drink arsenic for water
abandon rest for tired-out bones
underpaid, palms waxed
rubbed-down glossy dips and hard knobs
lathered with aloe
why is it always so damn hot?
hot like the asphalt that burns through flat sneakers
not hot like mom’s chili
the fumes drive her kids
out into the streets lined with prayer

in the coachella valley
movement does not equal mobility
how do i begin to describe
how children are more familiar with the fields than they are with clean water
that even in 120 degrees, when the granules of a past life become pure light
there is still beauty in intense heat
that even as this landscape drives displacement
there is still beauty in the people
who are always in motion

LIZBETH LUEVANO is a current undergraduate student at Stanford University, studying environmental anthropology. Raised in the Coachella Valley, Lizbeth has a vested interest in using story reclamation to bring about narrative change, and unraveling how we navigate a geopolitical terrain where land and labor exploitation are irrevocably intertwined.

by Allison Adelle Hedge-Coke

Lifting Visqueen veils spread over little darlings,
selecting seedlings to set each predawn rise. 
We coffeed up, chewed rumors, shared ourselves 
wherever needed without a hint of roundworm
belly, malathion burn, or pay bounce still to come.

ALLISON ADELLE HEDGE-COKE's eighteen books include Look at This Blue (National Book Award finalist), Burn, Streaming, Blood Run, and Effigies III. Following former fieldworker retraining in Santa Paula and Ventura, California, in the mid-1980s, she began teaching and is now Distinguished Professor and Mellon Dean’s Professor at UC Riverside.