Category: Poetry


Touch the Earth (once again)


Juan Felipe Herrera

This is what we do:

this is what the worker does:
this is what the cotton truck worker does:
this is what the tobacco leaf roller does:
this is what the washer-woman & the laundry worker does:
this is what the grape & artichoke worker does:
not to mention the cucumber workers—
not to mention the spinach & beet workers
not to mention the poultry woman workers
not to mention the packing house workers &
the winery workers & the lettuce & broccoli
& peach & apricot & squash & apple &
that almost-magical watermelon
& the speckled melon & the honey-dew the workers
this is what they do:

notice what they do:
notice: how they bend in the fires no one sees
notice: their ecstatic colors & their knotted shirts
notice: where they cash
their tiny & wrinkled checks & pay stubs:
stand in that small-town desert sundry store
then walk out they do & stall for a moment they do
underneath this colossal tree with its condor-wings
shedding solace for a second or two
how they touch the earth—for you


Tocar la Tierra (una vez más)

Esto es lo que hacemos:

esto es lo que hace el chofer del campo de algodón:
esto es lo que hace el que enrolla los puros con hojas de tabaco:
esto es lo que hace la mujer de la limpiadura y la de la lavandería:
esto es lo que hace el obrero de uvas y de alcachofa:
sin mencionar los que trabajan el pepino—
sin mencionar los que trabajan la espinaca y el betabel
sin mencionar las que trabajan con aves de corral
sin mencionar las empacadoras y
las que trabajan en viñedos y la lechuga y el brócoli
y el durazno y el chabacano y la calabaza y la manzana y
esa casi-mágica sandía
y el melón moteado y el melón verde los obreros
esto es lo que hacen:

atento a lo que hacen:
atento: en cómo se inclinan en los fuegos que nadie ve
atento: en sus colores vibrantes y sus camisas con nudos
atento: en el lugar donde cobran sus chequesitos y como tienen
el cheque y talón todo arrugado.
y como esperan en esa tiendita de abarrotes en el desierto
y de ahí salen y ahí hacen tiempo
para un descansito bajo ese arbolóte con sus alas de cóndor
dando consuelo por un segundo o dos
como tocan la tierra—para ti 


Juan Felipe Herrera
is the son of migrant farm workers and has held positions at Fresno State University and UC Riverside. He served both as Poet Laureate of the United States (2015-2017) and was appointed by Governor Jerry Brown in 2012 to serve as California’s Poet Laureate. He is the author of several collections including 187 Reasons Mexicanos Can’t Cross The Border (City Lights, 2007), Undocuments 1971-2007 (City Lights, 2007), Half the World in Light (University of Arizona Press, 2008), and Notes on the Assemblage (City Lights, 2015). “Touch the Earth (once again)” is a new poem, translated here into Spanish by Omar Chavez, and will be published in the forthcoming collection, I am Talkin’ to You.

Copyright: © 2017 Juan Felipe Herrera. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC-BY 4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. See




A California Requiem

Dana Gioia

I walked among the equidistant graves
New planted in the irrigated lawn.
The square, trim headstones quietly declared
The impotence of grief against the sun.

There were no outward signs of human loss.
No granite angel wept beside the lane.
No bending willow broke the once rough ground
Now graded to a geometric plane.

My blessed California, you are so wise.
You render death abstract, efficient, clean.
Your afterlife is only real estate,
And in his kingdom Death must stay unseen.

I would have left then. I had made my one
Obligatory visit to the dead.
But as I turned to go, I heard the voices,
Faint but insistent. This is what they said.

“Stay a moment longer, quiet stranger.
Your footsteps woke us from our lidded cells.
Now hear us whisper in the scorching wind,
Our single voice drawn from a thousand hells.

“We lived in places that we never knew.
We could not name the birds perched on our sill,
Or see the trees we cut down for our view.
What we possessed we always chose to kill.

“We claimed the earth but did not hear her claim,
And when we died, they laid us on her breast,
But she refuses us—until we earn
Forgiveness from the lives we dispossessed.

“We are so tiny now—light as the spores
That rotting clover sheds into the air,
Dry as old pods burnt open by the sun,
Barren as seeds unrooted anywhere

“Forget your stylish verses, little poet—
So sadly beautiful, precise, and tame.
We are your people, though you would deny it.
Admit the justice of our primal claim

“Become the voice of our forgotten places.
Teach us the names of what we have destroyed.
We are like shadows the bright noon erases,
Weightlessly shrinking, bleached into the void.

“We offer you the landscape of your birth—
Exquisite and despoiled. We all share blame.
We cannot ask forgiveness of the earth
For killing what we cannot even name.”


*Dana Gioia, “A California Requiem,” 99 Poems: New & Selected (Graywolf Press, 2016).

Photograph by Matt Gush.

Dana Gioia is the ex-chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts and Poet Laureate of California. He received an MA in comparative literature from Harvard University and has published five full-length collections of poetry between 1986 and 2016.