Gary Soto

(April 12, 1952 / Fresno, California)

A Red Palm


You're in this dream of cotton plants.
You raise a hoe, swing, and the first weeds
Fall with a sigh. You take another step,
Chop, and the sigh comes again,
Until you yourself are breathing that way
With each step, a sigh that will follow you into town.

That's hours later. The sun is a red blister
Coming up in your palm. Your back is strong,
Young, not yet the broken chair
In an abandoned school of dry spiders.
Dust settles on your forehead, dirt
Smiles under each fingernail.
You chop, step, and by the end of the first row,
You can buy one splendid fish for wife
And three sons. Another row, another fish,
Until you have enough and move on to milk,
Bread, meat. Ten hours and the cupboards creak.
You can rest in the back yard under a tree.
Your hands twitch on your lap,
Not unlike the fish on a pier or the bottom
Of a boat. You drink iced tea. The minutes jerk
Like flies.

It's dusk, now night,
And the lights in your home are on.
That costs money, yellow light
In the kitchen. That's thirty steps,
You say to your hands,
Now shaped into binoculars.
You could raise them to your eyes:
You were a fool in school, now look at you.
You're a giant among cotton plants.
Now you see your oldest boy, also running.
Papa, he says, it's time to come in.
You pull him into your lap
And ask, What's forty times nine?
He knows as well as you, and you smile.
The wind makes peace with the trees,
The stars strike themselves in the dark.
You get up and walk with the sigh of cotton plants.
You go to sleep with a red sun on your palm,
The sore light you see when you first stir in bed.

Submitted: Monday, January 20, 2003

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  • Ladawn Trice (3/16/2012 8:07:00 AM)

    somehow, managed to turn a smile upside down... you reap what you sow, but you have to make the best of it, so out of it can come benefits. no matter how much of a fooled you acted then, for your family you will break your back to give them all that they need and some of the desires that they want. to make sure that your child/ren doesn't reflect the fool you acted in school, but to be the business man you are in the fields w a better tune... beauty shows its' face in many directions (Report) Reply

  • Alexis Ligues (10/5/2010 2:03:00 PM)

    Hi im Alexis ligues and this poem reminds me of the one time that i tried to be cool and took vodka to school.. which i still do. and i think this poem is great! it makes me want to get wasted (Report) Reply

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