The hardest job I ever had was in 9th grade.
Every Saturday, after a week of running
from my teammates who, after every loss,
would toss the slower runners in the mud
after football practice, after another fall
of watching one another crumple like leaves,
I woke before daybreak to catch a bus
that dropped me off with migrant workers
lifting leathered hands to Jesus
five blocks from Village Nurseries,
where, for $4.25 an hour, I would drag
magnolias to customers’ cars
or catch a truck to shovel dirt
for rich people’s sewer lines until dark.
“Shit, I guess everyone needs somewhere
to defecate,” Bill Sowa would declare,
and we’d descend the sleepy aisles
of larches and balsam poplars
arching their regal arms across the sky,
or the rows of orange trees we daily heaved
onto the tractor my boss said I didn’t need
a license to drive. “Hell,” he laughed,
“half these guys don’t even have birth
certificates.” And during lunch,
a worker named Jose and I
discussed the relative firmness
of women’s thighs over emptied Coronas
and leaned back until the Palm trees
dangled from the Earth like feather dusters
brushing against the starless sea of smog,
which we knew the wind would wash,
along with Jose’s heavy spirit
and most minimum of wages,
somewhere south to his wife and kids,
who must have wondered when the wind
would bring their father home.
But Jose and I wondered not
how we’d survive it, for we knew,
our fingers dripping with the fire-
red salsa that had always run
from Jesus and his followers
who could never run fast enough.
Who Will Come Next
Watching wiper blades
smear the mud
against the windshield,
I smear the stars
from my eyes
and lift the hood.
Damned car’s not even
paid off and already
along the 40,
somewhere between Barstow
and Siberia, California.
Above, two ravens
mimic the rhythm
of the blades,
their gentle sway the only
movement for miles
on this stretch of pavement,
a line drawn in the sand
to mark our place
for those who will come next.
The gardeners who trim the bushes low as their wages
have, in the name of fire-prevention,
stripped the eucalyptus branches
and lopped their mighty limbs, through which the moon
has many midnights dangled like a golden fruit,
and where the sparrows perched upon
those branches that held up the sky, now severed into stubs,
whole extended sparrow families displaced
with one swipe of the human’s mighty saw.
Matthew Nadelson is an English instructor at Norco College in Norco, CA. His poems have appeared in Blue Collar Review, ByLine Magazine, Chiron Review, Connotation Press, Mobius, and other literary journals, and in the anthologies Beloved on the Earth: 150 Poems of Grief and Gratitude and America Remembered. His first poetry collection, American Spirit, was published in August 2011 by Finishing Line Press.