My afternoon ESL class fills
with former field workers and packing plant employees.
Hector, who walks with a limp.
Reina, her good eye chocolate brown and laughing.
Santiago, his hands criss-crossed in scars, like prayers.
We are making wish lists, an exercise
in the grammar of the conditional, in a field
where nothing is innocuous play, (where everything is conditional,)
where even the tiniest scratch on the surface
of my students’ lives emits a flow
that will not clot.
I wish I had a million dollars.
I wish I could see my family in Michoacan.
I wish my husband would stop drinking.
I wish my baby no die.
It is Juana’s first day, a timid woman
who reaches to just above my shoulder.
“What does this mean, Juana?
You lost a baby?”
“I work too much in the field with the baby
in my belly. My baby go.”
She stands in front of me,
her black curls still, her face serene,
ragged looseleaf page in her hand.
There is no sign of that morning
when she must have clutched her middle,
cried out through the traffic
speeding to work on the highway beside her,
an alarm above a sound like rushing water,
and the dark red pooling fed
iron-rich into the dirt.
“How you say? I loss? I loss my baby?”
as if it is misplaced
under the trunks of thick stacked leaves.
And they search, they search
through the afternoon,
following the cord from her womb
to its frayed end.