by Amanda Galvan Huynh
Elegy for The Migrant Worker’s Hands
These workers, they have chosen this way of life
and if they were not happy they would not be here.
– Jack Pandol, Delano Grower
they are born
soft as cotton
small but able
to wrap around a vine
they learn to grow
with each season
and drift like pollen
they learn to callous
along the edges
learn to live with dirt
under the nails
they learn to birth
onions from the earth
cradle peppers away
from the vine
break cucumbers free
from Robstown to Mathis
to el Valle to Floydada
never finding a place
they long to rest
beside a local girl
to make a home
they dream of words
they can’t read
for a pencil to shape
they dream of afternoons
empty of fields
The Songs of Brujería
La Luna would be the brightest on Saturday nights
for a quince, a wedding, or some other reason
to celebrate—to fill a dance hall:
tías refilling plates with barbeque
and gossip. Beer bottles humming
around mouths. Children playing tag
under tables until drunk abuelos trap them
into norteña-ing their boots along to the breath
of el acordeón. When cumbia whisked her way
through the speakers, the women would line
the floor to sway in rhythm to Baila
Esta Cumbia. An invitation to mueve
to the music in their blood. These were the songs
of brujería and this was where the women
in my family practiced. These were the nights
my mother would take me onto the dance floor
with her long black hair cumbia-ing to its own beat.
She would teach me how to listen to the magic
found in those nights—as if all I had
to do was press my ear to my pulse—to find my way home.
Some fray in a field
of onions, a horizon
of green stalks flanked
by brown bags & some
start to fray after one
season in the Texas
summer when the clouds
turn away & some start
to fray after six days.
Most begin to fray
at the bottom cuff
of their jeans, where
an ankle rubs against denim
in the quiet of a boot. Some
begin to fray in the gap
between wooden crates
& sweaty palms, where blood
blisters soak into the handles
& stain shirts. Some fray
at the collar, where the neck’s
grime rings a harness
of the work—
day’s clock. Some fray
at the waistline where
a buckle can burn its way
into the stomach. Some
fray the hem of an old slip,
yellowed by vaqueros
dipping in for the harvest.
My mother frays
along the inseam
of her long legs
barely covered. Her legs
scissor through Tejano
ready to clip
a ripe one: a man
missing the warmth
of his wife. A man
wanting a body
without ties. Each night
I listen to her harvest
in hot sweat
& I know some fray
better than others.
My mother lied to me at twelve
when I asked about her mother:
What did your mom do?
She was a nurse.
And I saw her blonde hair
tucked into scrubs, working
double shifts to place rice
and beans on the table. She
was strong, intelligent, and a myth.
Ten years gives way to specific
questions: What kind of nurse was she?
She was never a nurse.
She had a profession we’re not proud of.
My mother doesn’t make eye-contact with me
as she cannot bring her mouth to say:
The scrubs are replaced with hand-me-down
clothes. My grandmother, a single mother,
as an attendant at a carnival,
saving old candy apples from the trash
to bring home to her children
as a field worker,
bringing her children into the sun
to pick onions for nickels
as a clerk at a panadería,
shoveling stale pan into a bag as penance.
When there were no jobs, she gave the rest
she had; her body for a portion of the rent.
Who La Llorona Cries For
I imagine my mother saw the two blue lines
as handcuffs made from rivers.
Twenty-one and pregnant.
The two blue lines clapping, announcing to her
in-laws that she had made their son
Did she think of her mother?
Throughout the next nine months, did she wonder
if her mother sat outside on the porch
eating sardines and craving the salt of the ocean?
Did she want to ask her how she carried ponds in her belly?
What death felt like at thirty-two?
In the delivery room, I can hear my mother
¡Ay, mi Mamá —
— mi Mamá!
a protest, a reason
not to deliver:
not to become her mother,
a single mother,
a mother who would leave
her sixteen-year-old daughter.
In those first seconds I came up for breath
my mother was already calling to the dead.
Amanda Galvan Huynh is a Chicana poet living in New York. She was a finalist for the 2015 Gloria Anzaldúa Poetry Prize, and was selected for the 2016 AWP Intro Journal Project Award. She is the receipient of scholarships from the Sewanee Conference and Sundress Academy for the Arts. Her poems have also appeared or are forthcoming in Muzzle Magazine, Tahoma Literary Review, Silk Road Review, The Boiler Journal, Huizache, and others.