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Poetry from The Common

February 15, 2024

Detail of Narsiso Martinez (Mexican-American, born 1977). Always Fresh, 2018. Ink, charcoal, gouache, gold leaf, collage on reclaimed produce boxes, 278 x 92.5 inches (706.1 x 235 cm). Photo: Brenda Bieger for the Buffalo AKG Art Museum. 

Part 2 of 3

Narsiso Martinez’s artwork honors the work done by immigrant laborers 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 Shop. 


by Aideed Medina 

Narsiso Martinez (Mexican-American, born 1977). Checker Leading the Crowd, 2023. Charcoal and simple leaf on produce cardboard, 23 1/2 x 15 inches (59.69 x 38.1 cm). Collection Buffalo AKG Art Museum. Courtesy of the artist and Charlie James Gallery, Los Angeles (2024:3). Photo: Brenda Bieger for the Buffalo AKG Art Museum. 

Es de madrugada.
It is dawn        always dawn 
       the sun breaking through 
                the breaking of the soil.
The faint smell of rain from irrigated dirt
crusts of mud from the crop rows
comes home with my father
on his pants and beneath his fingernails.
He must change out of his work clothes 
in the garage. His 
contaminated by pesticide residue 
are washed 
from the rest of the family laundry.
My mother 
works on the machines in the lettuce fields
wrapping the heads in thin printed plastic
covered in bright letters
meant to draw customers’ eyes.
She is proud of the smooth, seamless wrap, 
the speed with which she can fill huge boxes.
These heads of lettuce are her art.
There are three of us children
taken out of bed before dawn,
wrapped in blankets.

We are carried out to the waiting car,
motor on, steam rising from the undercarriage.
I stay still
so I don’t have to walk.
My mother and my aunt talk. 
I listen to their conversations,
leaning on my baby sister and brother.

The sitter waits for us,
bag of freshly cooked lunches,
box of cereal,
gallon of milk.

There are never sick days; there are never vacations
unless there is no work in the fields, 
and even then, the work can be followed
hunted down, chased through

My father follows the crops, 
with a tribe of seasonal bachelors.
Sending back wages,
minus the cost of rent, 
the cost of food, 
the high cost of separated lives.

My mother searches packing sheds
along the roads for work. 
La corrida, 
running for our lives.

AIDEED MEDINA is a Pushcart Prize-nominated poet, spoken word artist, and playwright, and daughter of Miguel and Lupita Medina of Salinas, California, and the United Farm Workers movement. She is the author of 31 Hummingbird and a forthcoming full-length poetry collection, Segmented Bodies, from Prickly Pear Press.

by Jordan Escobar

Sideway view of two artworks of portraits painted on produce boxes with a doorway displaying a large print of a poem on green paper in white font
Installation view of Narsiso Martinez: From These Hands/De Estas Manos. Photo: Brenda Bieger for the Buffalo AKG Art Museum. 

Sunlight creaks over the blackened hills,

just enough light to see ladders

angled against limbs. Enough to see

limbs angled against branches, to see buckets

placed among roots. The rising of hands,

the wringing of day. Skin and bark dressed with dew.

To see the harvest, the flesh, the bones, noiselessly

ascend, like doves on their winter flights.

The horizon spills, ripe with stonefruit. Green, hardened,

puckered. To the press. To be squeezed. To be drained.

So many lives threshed into that singular and rare flavor.

JORDAN ESCOBAR is a writer and former farm laborer from Central California. He is the author of the chapbook Men With the Throats of Birds (CutBank Books). He is a 2023 winner of the St. Botolph Emerging Artist Award and a 2022 Djanikian Scholar in Poetry. He has been published in many journals including Prairie Schooner, Zone 3, the Cortland Review, and elsewhere. He has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net, and his work has been recognized by the Boston Mayor’s Office of Arts and Culture. He currently teaches at Emerson College and Babson College.