a strawberry field in Oregon, summer of ’96
My beau, smiling in the sun, cracking jokes in Spanish
never looked so bright, crouched in the fields
with his friends.
The ladies, too, wives,
buckets full already, gossip and laugh,
and I’m trying to pick faster.
My beginner’s Spanish,
my 1/10th full bucket of berries,
my wobbling ankles and lips already cracking;
no hat for sun, and clothes
too warm for this — I’m only 40 minutes in,
feeling faint and weak.
I’d like to taste
a berry, juicy, sun-warmed,
straight from the bush,
but I need water, shade,
and a bushel or two.
No time to pick for me.
I am a tourist here
and when the farmer comes
looking after the workers,
poking fun as they blink,
throwing a bonus of Taco Bell
to supplement a pittance, I turn,
lips quivering, tongue
sticking in my mouth, telling him
I speak perfect English.
— Tameca Coleman
Setting Up the Patio Amidst Moon-Mad People, July 5, 2012, Denver
The morning is full of two days gone, already
waning, moon-mad people.
Behind me, a man glares through the glass
as I pull the cables from the chairs and tables,
outside, setting up the store patio,
for two who are already
sitting at locked up furniture,
reading papers, drinking
coffee and eating crumb cake.
The man thinks I’ve stolen 57 cents,
I’ll learn later.
Though he left and never came back for it,
I shouldn’t have assumed it was a tip.
I turn to avoid his glare, and there’s a family of travelers,
looking wild and lost, not out of place
with the sad and vagrant
still groggy from their concrete sleeps.
One of the elder women says she likes me,
“You work hard,” she says,” and I can see the wear
of her work. I wonder where she’s from.
The family moves inside,
and there’s a young man standing, erratic neck movements,
barely clothed, staring at the chairs and tables
left to be unlocked, mumbling something.
He turns to me and states, “they lie.”
I try to unlock the last cable as I ask him
what he means. His reply, “the eyes…
what they say is not true.”
I apologize and worry that perhaps I have said something
and all I want to do is be nice to him
because he immediately tries to help me
with the tables and chairs,
and because he’s also said
something so profound —
that he understands
that sometimes the eyes
belie the soul.
“You can sit here,” I say,
realizing one of my coworkers
might throw him out.
They’ve been talking about him, already,
and I’m talking about it him now.
— Tameca Coleman
Beltane at Farmer Brown’s
A gathering for May Day, celebrating spring. Potluck in a barn
where patch-worked children squeal and race around the room,
dance to the music we make; bare feet and flying hair, hands, legs, arms.
Their mothers arrange dusted desert blooms and buds at the potluck table.
Hay strands float. Bugs sneak in. Lanterns light the insides of the barn.
Conversation improvises over laughter.
Laughter improvises over music. Children play. Feet pat the floor.
Heads nod on swaying bodies.
Men in bandanas, women in skirts,
smile and hug every new attendant, every new friend. They offer them water.
They offer them wine and plates from the potluck table.
Our hands pat skin, reverberate through wood.
Our voices chant, float over the room. We sing folk songs, songs newly made,
we play flute songs, guitar strings, didgeridoo.
My mouth waters at sight of the colorful table;
corn, fresh bread, apple fritters, crock-pot beans, grapes,
salads with flowers in them, soups, stews, dips, strawberries.
During a solo break, I imagine the way grapes pop
when bitten, the way apples crunch, the way fresh bread
cracks crumbs then stretches and receives its butter.
The potluck table scents waft their way to my microphone,
but the air’s grit hits my tongue and parches my throat.
Still I sing when the verses come,
a fertility song for the Yoruban goddess Kori,
improvised over the noise and movement of the pulsating and happy crowd.
— Tameca Coleman